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What to Do if a Child Refuses to Visit the Non-Custodial Parent

Until children become teenagers, enforcing child custody arrangements is usually fairly straightforward. Parents exchange the kids for visitation as provided in the custody order and courts can hold parents responsible for failing to do so. But as children get older, things change. Teenagers develop social lives and might start to “vote with their feet,” choosing to stay with one parent more than the other despite what the custody order says. They may even refuse to go to a parent’s house altogether, which can put the custodial parent in a difficult situation.

While children don’t have the legal right to refuse visitation, at some point a parent cannot simply force the child to cooperate. Yet, the custodial parent has the responsibility, in the eyes of the law, to get the child to abide by the order or risk legal action by the non-custodial parent.

A custodial parent may consider employing these strategies to deal with a child’s preferences regarding visitation:

  • Ask the child why they don’t want to visit — Rather than ordering your child to visit, show that you care what they think. The way they answer can give you ideas for how best to remedy the situation.
  • Document their refusals — Keep of written record of each time your child refuses to visit the other parent, including the reason. You may need to use this as evidence if the other parent goes to court to accuse you of not complying with the parenting time schedule.
  • Call the non-custodial parent — Call the other parent right away if the child is refusing to go. Explain the situation and even ask the child to speak to the other parent. This way, it’s harder for you to be accused of violating court orders.
  • Don’t argue at exchanges — Friction between parents at the point of exchange can make children anxious and want to just stay where they are. If your ex is argumentative during an exchange, be the bigger person and don’t engage.
  • Continue to encourage visits — It’s easy to get frustrated with a child who refuses to cooperate, but try to stay patient and be persistent. Let your child know that spending time with the other parent is important, that the other parent loves them, too. Whatever you do, don’t insult the other parent in an attempt to gain your child’s agreement. That will almost always backfire.

Keep in mind that judges often require parenting time to continue until the child attains the age of 18, even if the child refuses. There may be a severe penalty if the child refuses to see the other parent. Judges, in the past, have even gone so far as to confine the child in Juvenile Detention if they refuse to see the other parent. At other times, a judge may sanction the parent who does not “force” the child to see the other parent.

At Dawson Family Law, PLLC in Sterling Heights, Michigan, I help parents manage challenging situations involving children’s refusal to stick to parenting time schedules. If you have questions about how to handle a situation, I would be happy to meet with you and explain more about what might be done. Please call me at 833-671-4445 or contact me online to schedule a free consultation any time.

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