Custody & Visitation Law

What if My Child Doesn't Want To Visit With His or Her Other Parent?

It's time for your 9-year-old child's weekend visit to her other parent, and, as usual, she's dragging her feet. “I don't want to go!" she whines as you pack her overnight bag.

Then your 15-year-old son rolls his eyes and says he's not going. “I have plans this weekend," he says while putting on his headphones. Now your ex is impatiently honking the horn when no children have appeared. What is a parent to do when a child is refusing to participate in your custody agreement? There is no easy answer to this situation.

Custodial Parent Responsibilities

As a custodial parent, part of your job is to foster a relationship between your kids and your ex, no matter how difficult the situation may be. Despite the reasons for the break up, experts agree that children should maintain good relationships with both parents. The parents should stay in contact and work together to achieve that goal. Supporting the visitation schedule is an important way to encourage them to build and maintain that bond.

So, if your young child refuses visitation, doesn't feel like going, or doesn't like leaving you behind, you should try to encourage them to visit with their other parent as scheduled.

What Do You Do When Your Child Doesn't Want to See a Parent?

If your child is refusing to go for their visit, it would help to speak to your child and explain that in this situation, their parents must live apart but both love them equally and want to spend time with them. Frame the conversation in a positive light: your other parent misses you and wants to spend time with you, and when the visit is over you'll get back here and see me. You shouldn't need to explain the technical, legal custody requirements to your child; all they need to know is that their other parent misses them, not that a judge says they have to go.

Children, especially young children, often get their cues from the adults around them. If you talk positively about visitation, acting like it's a good opportunity and not as if it's a chore, your child may be more likely to mirror that perspective and stop refusing to stick to their schedule.

While it's true that you should encourage visitation when your child doesn't want to see their other parent, it's important to handle the conversation respectfully. A child doesn't typically have a lot of control in their life, and sometimes forced visitation could just feel frustrating because they don't have a say in where they go and when.

It's important not to just dismiss your child when they don't want to go see their other parent. Have a conversation where you listen to their reasons and validate what they're feeling. Then, you can explain why it's important that they have contact and visit with both of their parents. Sometimes a child would just like to feel heard and that their wants matter to you, and by listening you could improve their outlook on your custody agreement and make them see going to visit as a good thing. Then, you don't have to "force" your child to do something they don't want to do because they could become more interested in the visit. Plus, your child will feel listened to and respected by you, improving relationships among everyone in the family.

At What Age Can a Child Say They Don't Want to See a Parent?

Visitation, like child support, is a critical matter in a child custody agreement, so there could be legal implications for violating the order. As such, you could be in trouble if you don't comply with the court's child custody order on visitation. Your ex can ask the judge to hold you in contempt of court if you intentionally don't complying with the agreement by not sending your young child for visitation. The bottom line is that you are the parent, and you are responsible for your child's actions. Thus, you'll be the one responsible, and who may have to answer to the court, if your child refuses and doesn't visit as ordered. If that does happen, get your attorney involved.

An older child, particularly teenagers, present a whole different set of considerations. You cannot physically force a fifteen-year-old boy to visit a parent if he doesn't want to. Threatening your teen with punishment or restricting his freedom will likely hurt more than it will help. It might cause him to equate time with one parent just as an alternative to punishment, which can negatively taint the way your son views time with that other parent.

The hard truth is that a teenager most likely would rather be with his friends than mom or dad. He may not think there's anything exciting about spending a weekend with his other parent, or he'll be afraid of missing out on something in his social circle, if he's away from home and those friends. As such, family law courts typically hold the teenagers responsible for their behavior with respect to visitation, not the custodial parent. At a certain age, many courts will agree that, while a teenager is still a child, they should have some say in where they live and when, though that age will vary from state to state.

Because the custodial parent typically cannot make a teenager visit as ordered, then the court is unlikely to find the parent in contempt of court for failing to comply with a visitation order. You can help encourage your child to go, however, and ask them to try and schedule plans around at least some of the time designated to visit the other parent. You should also consider talking to an attorney for legal advice on this matter; perhaps there are ways you and your ex can find creative solutions to allow them more access to visits. You should ask your attorney for advice first before approaching your ex to ensure you're complying with the court orders.

The Best Interest of the Child

Always remember that the ultimate question most family court judges will ask is: “What is in the best interests of the child?" Outside of a situation involving abuse or neglect, the court will almost always hold that it's in child's best interest to continue the relationship with both parents.

And while the “best interest" standard varies from one state to the next, some factors are common in the best interest analysis, including:

  • Need for continuation of stable home environment
  • Mental and physical health of the parents
  • Wishes of the child (if old enough to express a reasonable preference)
  • Adjustment to school and community
  • Religion and/or cultural considerations

If you have any concerns about your visitation agreement, your child's refusal to see their other parent, or want to make any type of adjustment to your custody order, be sure to consult an attorney with experience in family cases. Court-ordered visitation is a legal matter, so you want to ensure that anything you do is within the limits of the law.