What to do when your child refuses visitation
Establishing firm visitation rules and protecting yourself
It’s bound to happen at one time or another when your child just refuses to go to visitation. It is usually the non-residential parent the child is resisting to see. Establishing a plan for when this inevitably happens can relieve stress for both parents and create a more solid foundation for the children.
First, listen to be sure there are no warning signs of a more serious issue. Try to determine the reason why they don’t want to go. Take into consideration the age of your child as well. It is easier to tell a younger child (ages 3-12) that they don’t have a choice in the matter. Teenagers are much more difficult. Be prepared that a child can throw a tantrum at any age and refuse to go. Your job is to gently let them know that it is not up to them. You are the parent and you’re going to have to be stern. It is essential that each parent gets their rightful time with their children. Documentation of when and how often the child is refusing to go can be helpful to compare with what’s going on in their life.
If you give your child the choice of visitation you are leaving the power up to them and this is a mistake. Giving them the choice teaches them it’s not important. You must make visitation a principle. Just like a child should go to school or the doctor they have to go to visitation as well.
If you have done everything in your power to influence the child to visit, and they still refuse to go, then it might be time to consider a therapeutic intervention. If a minor child is so opposed to visitation that they are acting hysterical than something is seriously wrong. The goal of therapy would be to get down to the bottom of why they don’t want to go. Explore the child’s refusal in spending time with the other parent. This must be done in a sensitive manner as it can be very emotional and upsetting for both parents and the child. Seeking therapy is a great option to address the issue as well as protect you from being accused of alienating your child from their other parent. The goal is to resolve the issue for the child’s best interest.
You must do your best to comply with the court’s order on visitation. Teenagers are a more difficult situation because they are reaching the age where they’re able to make their own decisions. For other children, you are the parent and you are responsible for your child’s actions. So, you might have to answer in court if your child doesn’t visit as ordered. You will be required to show that you did everything you could (just short of physically forcing them to go) in order to comply with the custody order. Always remember the goal of most family court judges is to do what’s in the best interest of the child. Usually, that requires both parents having a quality relationship with their children.
If you believe the other parent is unreasonable withholding visitation or is alienating you from your child, you should contact a lawyer immediately. Our office has handled a significant amount of these cases and we’ve found that these behaviors can compound over time. If they aren’t dealt with soon they can eventually spiral out of control and ruin your relationship with your child for years, or even their entire life.
For more information on establishing initial custody, check out our article here.
For more information on learning how to co-parent, check out this article.