What is contact sabotage, and why does this happen?

What is cohabitation sabotage? We look at the facts about contact sabotage, what happens when the mother prevents contact, and how this happens. And perhaps most importantly – what the psychological consequences are for the child.

The father’s role has been given a more central role in the form of leave changes. But what are the father’s rights in the event of a break-up? It is important to shed light on the father’s role, and to call into question the old opinion that only the mother forms close ties with the child. Therefore, in this article, we take as a starting point how the legislation suggests that it can be easy for a mother to carry out contact sabotage. The article is aimed at cases where suspicion of violence and/or abuse is NOT present.

What is contact sabotage?

According to jusinfo.no, access sabotage is defined as what happens when one of the parents does not show up at the agreed time for sharing access. Often it is the person with primary responsibility who avoids meeting at the agreed time due to a personal conflict with the other party. But it can also mean active sabotage to prevent the other party from taking part in the child’s life, and it can go as far as sabotaging the other party in a legal context.

An example of this has been written about by Camilla Fossum Pettersen in her book “Samværssabotage. Norwegian fathers share their stories”, where several fathers told about their experience when their mother prevented them from visiting. Many had experienced incorrect reviews, restraining orders and interference by the court. Psykiskhelse.no writes that it took half a year before one of the fathers was able to see his daughter regularly – but only two hours each week. How can this happen? 

The law today is set up so that in some cases it can pay for the mother to have the most responsibility for the child after a breakup with the father. The person with the least child receives the highest child support. In this way, the state supports the solution that the mother should fight to have the child the most, and in some cases find it profitable to sabotage contact with the father. This can be supported by Statistics Norway , which shows that the child lives permanently with the mother more often the fewer hours the mother works (figures from 2014).

In many cases, it is relocation that causes major conflict. If there is disagreement about who the child should live with, the court must intervene to decide where the child should live permanently. Furthermore, the party who has the child living with them can permanently decide where in the country they will live.

Not secured against contact sabotage

What the father can do in a situation where there is no agreement with the mother is to call in mediation at the family welfare office. If there is no agreement here, or there is sabotage from one side, then the next step may be to try the question of visitation in court. But this is also where it can become difficult for father if there is sabotage of contact in the picture.

In short, we currently have a system that is not well enough secured against meeting sabotage. Much of the reason for this may lie in a belief that the child is better off being stable in one place, especially in the first three years. This opinion is also taken into account in the judiciary and in family and child protection when it is decided where the child will live and how the distribution will be.

This is put in a critical light in an article in the Journal of the Norwegian Psychological Association in 2016 . Here, research is presented that has led to major changes in the USA, and which emphasizes that shared care from the children are very young is important.

Research in Europe now also points in the same direction, and research in Denmark emphasizes that fathers’ involvement is important. We see this moving in the right direction in Norway in the form of changes to paternity leave, but there has been no significant improvement in the area of ​​fathers in the event of a divorce. There is still a way to go to make it easier for the father to keep in touch with the child after a break in contact.


What about the child himself?

The child should be the most important factor in such a situation, but there are often a lot of feelings for the parents related to the break in contact. This can influence choices that are made and that will help shape the child for the rest of his life. Children who grow up without knowing their father may feel bitterness towards their mother, and some feel sadness or anger related to growing up.

How the living situation in the event of a break-up should be for the child in the first three years of life has been widely discussed. The argument for avoiding shared care in the first years is to create stability, and to mitigate any conflicts. Even so, research shows that children are more affected by being kept away from one of their parents than having to change places of residence every week or the like.

Shared care provides more emotional and behavioral adjustment

The research, which led to a so-called paradigm shift in the legal system in the USA, suggests that shared care provides more emotional and behavioral adaptation. Psykologitidsskriftet.no further states that shared care will lead to better self-esteem, less depression and stress, better school results, better social adaptation, and not least: better adaptation to family and to divorce.

This can be interpreted as, according to their studies, the child is adaptable. It does not have the same emotional baggage linked to the breakup as the parents may have, and it is easier to accept a break in contact between parents than the parents themselves. As long as the child still gets time with both caregivers, the child will receive enough stimuli, as well as the love and security it needs for healthy cognitive and emotional development.

However, it is not only abroad that the research points to this. A study carried out at the University of Bergen, where they followed students over ten years, showed that the actual divorce of the parents did not have a major impact on their mental health. In the group who lost contact with a parent, however, they found that mental health could be affected.

When it is right to prevent contact

Although it may seem challenging, it is absolutely crucial that we see the situation from the child’s perspective, and not draw our own feelings into the decision. This is precisely what is often missing in situations where the mother keeps the children away from the father. It is often rooted in personal feelings rather than rational thinking for the child’s best interests.

Even so, it is important to emphasize that in some cases it is right to prevent contact with one of the parents. If there is suspicion of abuse or violence – physical and/or psychological – then it is right to keep your distance. This article is dedicated to situations where this is not the case.

More focus on meeting sabotage

In September this year , Lotte came forward and shared her story about how she never got the chance to meet her father as a child. The mother thought father did not fit into her new life after the breakup. This has caused Lotte to lose time with her father, and subsequently also the trust and relationship she had with her mother. She says that it is important to think about the consequences of what you do, and that such an act as sabotaging a meeting can backfire on you afterwards.

Many children who have grown up in a situation where contact sabotage was the case, may struggle with this in adulthood. Many also need help in the form of therapy to process feelings they are stuck with related to their parents. Author Camilla Fossum Pettersen proposes a change in the welfare scheme for those who cannot support themselves, so that it will not pay off financially to sabotage the time spent with one of the parents. Furthermore, Dag Furuholmen, a specialist in psychiatry, recommends that recent research and knowledge be put to use by public bodies in Norway. He believes it is still characterized by old tradition and professional prestige in the field, which is not ideal in a society where divorce is more common.

Although therapy can help in many cases, the problems can often be avoided by putting the child’s best interests first before personal gain and own feelings. But a change must also take place in the public sector, and more focus in the future must be placed on the father’s role in the child’s life.