Visitation Issue: My Child Does Not Want to Visit!
The Visitation Chronicles: Part 3- My Child Doesn’t Want to Visit the Other Parent!
By M. J. Goodwin
A very common question in my Family Court practice is “do I have to make my child go for visitation?” The answer to the question depends on many factors. First, is there a Court order? If not, the next question is whether or not the parents are married. If they are married, the parents have equal rights to the children. These situations can be difficult, particularly if the parents have resorted to “snatching” the child from each other or are keeping the child from each other. If the parents are not married, and there is no court order, the mother is the custodial parent by operation of law. In such situations, obtaining a temporary order to address visitation is the best remedy. But once there is a court order, even a temporary order, the short answer becomes “yes, you must make the child go for visitation.”
As a practical matter, unless there is child abuse or real neglect, parental drug use or alcohol abuse, parental mental illness, or parental criminal behavior, it is most often in the child’s best interest to spend significant amounts of time with both parents. So, as a practical matter, it becomes important to understand why a child is saying he or she doesn’t want to go for visitation.
1. Is the child simply telling you what he thinks you want to hear? The child is not stupid and is aware of the conflict. He may simply believe you don’t want him to go, so he says what he thinks you want to hear. This a very real problem in many cases. Only a skilled Guardian ad Litem or therapist will get to the bottom of this sort of problem. Once identified, the solution to this problem is for the custodial parent, by both words and actions, to convey that she or he wants the child to visit the non-custodial parent.
2. Is the child traumatized by the separation and the resulting conflict? If every visitation exchange is an ordeal, it’s no wonder the child doesn’t want to go. The solution in these situations may be to limit parental interaction by doing the exchange at school or having surrogates handle the exchange. Older children may drive themselves. Think outside the box. Find solutions to make the child more comfortable.
3. Does the child have different rules at each house? Such a situation can cause confusion and stress and may result in reluctance or refusal to visit. The solution here is co-parenting and establishing similar rules. This requires co-operation and may be difficult for warring parents.
4. Does the child have a good relationship with both parents? If not, then working on building relationships may be in order. A therapist may be needed for this.
This list is in no way exhaustive of potential problems and solutions. A child who refuses to visit can pose a significant problem, both for the custodial parent, who could be held in contempt and potentially jailed, and for the visiting parent, who is losing valuable time with a beloved child.
A skilled Family Court attorney may be needed to help craft workable solutions to the problem of a child that refuses to visit.
M. J. Goodwin can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org