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Your Child Won’t Go for Visitation. What Do You Do?

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Family law attorneys see all types of cases related to child issues. This includes divorces with children, custody cases, cases involving modification of visitation, cases involving enforcement of existing visitation orders, and contempt of court cases. The parent/child relationship in one case will not be the same as in another. Though the general hope is that the bond between mother or father and the child is strong, the reality is that that bond can be strained for various reasons, whether related to the break up of the family, a child with behaviorial issues, a parent with challenges in terms of appropriately parenting, a parent engaged in child alienation, time, distance, or a child just getting older and spreading his or her wings. From a custody law standpoint, the question arises of “what do you do when your child doesn’t want to go for visitation?” The answers vary, but there are steps to take to heal relationships, enforce your court orders, and to protect yourself if you are the primary custodial parent.

Though not extremely common, it is not that unusual to have a non-custodial parent entitled to parenting time indicate that a child, or children, do not want to come for visitation with him or her. Often times, the non-custodial parent will be left with no real explanation other than the other parent saying the kids are “angry,” “afraid,” “bored,” “don’t like your new spouse,” etc. Of course, children are not always going to feel comfortable sharing those feelings with that parent, out of fear of hurting their feelings or upsetting them. The non-custodial parent is left in a postion of wondering what the right move is? Should they force the children to come, knowing they don’t want to? Is the other parent doing something to influence the childr not to come? Will the court do anything? Court’s are used to allegations from some custodial parents that the children don’t want to go for visitation, for various reasons. Generally, the children’s statements would be hearsay and not admissible in court. As such, the key to figuring out what is going on is counseling. Counseling in these types of situations can come in many forms. When a child doesn’t want to go for parenting time, for whatever reason, one can try to get to the core of finding out why via getting the child into individual counseling?

From a problem solving standpoint, perhaps the more effective tool would be to get the child and non-custodial parent involved in reintegration or reunification counseling. This is joint counseling with parent and child designed to figure out what’s going on and to work with both parent and child to get over the emotional or behavioral hurdles which have the child avoiding visitation. The sole focus of the reintegration therapy is to heal the relationship. Aside from situations in which a child is resisting parenting time, this type of counseling is also generally deemed appropriate by the courts in situations in which a parent has been absent for long periods of time. Above either parent’s wishes or rights, a court wants to know that a child is emotionally safe and comfortable with visitation. As such, reintegration therapy will generally be the first, and hopefully last, step. Sadly, there are cases in which this therapy doesn’t work. Neither parent or child may be willing to change their positions or behaviors. The custodial parent may be alienating the child from the other parent. These types of concerns will likely come out in the therapy and can also be dealt with via the court.

When your child does not want to come see you, the primary concern should be how to deal with things. Forcing the child in a non-therapeutic setting can only make things worse, particularly with teenagers. Additionally, parents must keep in mind that as kids get older, say 14 or 15 years of age, they will want more autonomy. Courts recognize this as well and once kids reach their mid-to-late teenage years, courts will often factor in their wishes when dealing with visitation. Again, forcing the issue can make the rift greater. With children this age, it is better to take things slowly, with the hope that they will see the light and come around once they reach adulthood. By this I mean that you shouldn’t sacrifice your future relationship by forcing the issue in a highly aggressive manner today. The law affords remedies which one can avail himself or herself of. Don’t give up. Just proceed with intelligence, and in a legally appropriate manner.

The other side of this equation relates to what the custodial parent should do if the child does not want to see the other parent. We often hear parents on this side of the coin indicate the child is afraid, bored, angry, or just doesn’t want to go. This is a precarious position to be in. You don’t want to run afoul of court orders and subject your self to a wide array of legal problems. At the same time, you don’t want to send your children away, even for a weekend, knowing they are unhappy. In these instances, the custodial parent will be under ta proverbial microscope from the standpoint of the other side, and the system, looking at him or her and wondering if he or she is engaging in parental alienation or doing/saying things which make the child not want to go for visitation. If your child is expressing a lack of willingness to go for visition, you should immediately start communicating with the other parent. This should be done in a cooperative, non-confrontational manner. Though conversations are often more efficient and meaningful, email sets out a record of what has gone on. You can follow up a phone call with an email indicating what your child is saying, asking the other parent if he or she is seeing the same type of things, suggesting counseling, and asking how they want to handle it. An email and conversation with each instance may seem like overkill, but it creates a record which can be used in court, should litigation arise. You should also make sure to encourage the child to go. You might have people around, such as family members, prior to the child going so that they can see how the child is reacting to the notion of upcoming visitation. They could serve as witnesses should the issue be brought to the court’s attention. Their presence should be casual and not obvious to the child. Remember, children are smarter than you think.

The key to protecting yourself is to try to document that you are not the cause of the problem. If the other party is resistant to counseling or dismissive of the child’s feelings and concerns, you always have the right to go back to court to seek a modification of the parenting time orders. This can include a request to the court for counseling, whether reintegration or otherwise. Of course, if there is true danger, whether abuse, substance abuse, etc., that must be brought to the court’s attention immediately. The primary focus of this section relates to instances in which there is strife, not danger.

If the custodial parent is concerned about the children not wanting to go for visitation, he or she, when seeking a modification of parenting time, should almost always request the appointment of a child and family investigator (CFI). The CFI will talk to the children, assess the relationship between them and the other parent, and report to the court. This is the primary mechanism for making your children’s wi
shes known. If the court finds the children are truly troubled by the parenting time, it will likely make changes. Likewise, in instances in which the non-custodial parent has been absent for long periods of time and is, now, expecting to just pop back into the picture, it also appropriate to seek reintegration therapy to be ordered by the court. It is appropriate for you to want to know that your children will be emotionally okay with abrupt, renewed contact.

For both the custodial and non-custodial parent, keep in mind that with different ages come different challenges. You can tell a 5 year old what to do. You can put him or her in the car. A 16 year old is a completely different story. Beyond threats to take away the cell phone or computer, the control you might have over younger children is largely gone at that point. Parents on either side of the equation should keep the age of the child in mind when drawing conclusions about the other parent. Helping kids to be comfortable with visitation and working past the type of issues raised in this posting should, ideally, be a joint effort. Often it is not. That’s where we, the Denver family law attorneys, come in.