Can a child can refuse visitation? During the divorce process, parents usually work together to create a parenting plan that details when their child will spend time with each parent. In some cases, a judge creates the plan. If the child is young, it is generally easy to help them transition from one house to the other, and within a short period of time, they understand the routine.
Older children, however, might not want to switch from house to house or go to their mandated visitation with their noncustodial parent. Whether you are the parent who the child wants to stay with or the one the child is avoiding, here’s what you should know about whether or not a child can refuse visitation.
Missing Visitation Occasionally
When your parenting plan is put into effect, it is not a permanent, set-in-stone document. Particularly if the child is young, the parents should understand that the child’s needs and desires will change over time. As children move through elementary and middle school, they might occasionally plan playdates or sleepovers that interfere with visitation.
In these cases, it’s good for parents to talk to one another and decide if the activity is worth missing visitation for and when the parent can make up the time. A playdate with the next door neighbor might be postponed, but a visit with a cousin who is only in town once per year might take precedence over visitation just this once.
Similarly, if your teen wants to go to the mall with her maternal aunt when it’s the father’s custody time, you might explain that she needs to choose the next weekend, when it’s the mother’s custody time. But if it’s the teen’s best friend’s birthday and there is a sleepover weekend planned, that might take precedence.
For occasional disruptions, it’s best if both parents can work together without involving the family courts–by the time you get a date to see a judge or even a mediator, it’s likely that the event will have passed. If it becomes a frequent point of contention, however, then sitting down with a mediator or a legal resource group might be a good option.
Missing Visitation Regularly
The real issue comes up when a child does not wish to go to visitation anymore. There could be a myriad of reasons for this: Maybe the child doesn’t have a good relationship with one parent. Maybe there is a standing activity that he or she would rather take part in on the visitation day.
Perhaps the noncustodial parent lives far away and the child dislikes having to go on a long car ride every other weekend. A step-parent or step-siblings might play a part. Whatever the issue, it’s important to find out why your child doesn’t want to attend visitation so that a solution can be found.
In the case of a child who wants to join the soccer team but his other parent lives an hour away and cannot bring him to practices on their custodial weekends, maybe a compromise can be made that the child will be picked up at noon on Saturday, after the practice, rather than 5:00 pm on Friday evenings.
And maybe the parent can drop off the child to school on Monday mornings rather than return him on Sunday evening. Or it’s possible that during the soccer season, the extra time won’t be made up, but that parent will get an extra week or two of time during the summer break.
If the parents can work together to find a solution that satisfies the child’s needs without negatively impacting the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent, that’s the best option.
Involving the Courts
In some cases, parents will simply not be able to agree or an older child will simply refuse to go to visitation and the custodial parent does not feel comfortable making them go. The bottom line in this case is that the current plan must be adhered to unless the child is at risk of harm.
For example, if the child has accused the other parent of abuse, then an emergency appeal should be made to allow the child to miss visitation effective immediately until the case can be investigated. Most of the time, however, there’s no reason for an emergency hearing, and parents will need to simply follow the plan until they can have their case heard.
Mediation is always a good first step, as it makes it less likely that a judge will need to be involved. If a judge is involved, he or she will take into consideration the wishes of the child, but that won’t be the only factor. Remember that when deciding custody, the main concern is the best interest of the child.
It is almost always in the child’s best interest to have a relationship with both parents when possible, so a judge will usually try to accommodate that when modifying the custody order. It can be very difficult on both parents when a child does not want to go to their other parent’s home. The parent with primary custody might feel guilty and worried about what might be causing the issue.
And the parent who is seeing less of the child might be devastated that their child isn’t interested in spending time with them anymore. In many cases, however, there is an explanation that can be worked with. Keeping an open mind and trying to remain flexible is a necessity for all parents, including those who are still married to each other.
Be prepared for custody and visitation arrangements to change over time as your child grows up. The more flexible and understanding you can be, particularly during the turbulent pre-teen and teenage years, the better the chances of your child choosing to visit once the visitation orders expire on their 18th birthday.
Contact National Family Solutions if you are in the situation of your child not wanting to adhere to their court-mandated visitation. We can help you explore the options in your state so you can continue to be the parent your child needs you to be.