The custodial parent is expected to comply with the court-approved parenting plan and encourage his/her child to see the other parent according to the visitation schedule. However, if your child refuses to see or visit the other parent, you should take the following steps:
- Ask your child the reason for refusal
- Communicate with the other parent and document the event
- Inform your child custody attorney
- Involve the other parent in resolving the situation
- Be proactive, not reactive
If the child refuses to see the other parent, for whatever reason, the other parent can file an Order to Show Cause/Motion to Enforce to enforce the visitation schedule. This could turn out to be a huge and expensive headache for you even though you may not be at fault, because you may be required to convince the court that you complied with the parenting plan and it was the child who did not wish to see the other parent.
So, to avoid hassles, when you learn that your child has refused to see the other parent, you should consider taking the following steps on a war footing:
Ask Your Child the Reason for Refusal
Your child may refuse to see or visit the other parent for many reasons, for example:
- The child perceives the other parent as intimidating and feels scared of him/her, especially when they are alone.
- The child doesn’t have many pleasant memories of the times spent with the other parent.
- The child is uncomfortable with the parenting rules imposed by the other parent.
- The other parent lives far away, and the child, like most children, likes to hang around in familiar surroundings.
- The other parent and the child disagree and argue about many things.
- The child feels uncomfortable with or is hostile to the other’s parent’s new partner, or any other people in his/her home.
You should objectively, coolly, and calmly quiz your child about his reluctance. Allow your child to voice his/her reasons freely, without butting into the conversation.
Communicate with the Other Parent and Document the Event
Inform the other parent about the reasons why your child is refusing to meet him/her, and record the conversation if possible. Or you may note this down in your journal or in an online document, which you may want to share with your attorney or ex-spouse. The noting should contain:
- The date and description of the incident
- The reason why your child refused to see the other parent (as informed to you by the child)
- The measures you took to facilitate the visitation (for example, dropping off the child at a mutually agreed location or the other parent’s home, packing the child’s bag and getting him/her ready for the visit, being positive about the visitation, convincing the child to visit the other parent despite the child’s reluctance, etc.)
- How you have complied with the court-approved visitation schedule
- The measures you took to manage the situation
- Information you gave to the other parent (on what the child had to say about his/her refusal)
Inform Your Child Custody Attorney
If the child refuses to see the other parent because he/she feels unsafe, you should inform your attorney immediately. It is anyway a good idea to keep your attorney informed even otherwise, and perhaps you can even share your documentation of the event with him to learn if you are on the right side of the law.
Involve the Other Parent in Resolving the Situation
If the other parent is not at fault, inform him/her about what’s going on. Encourage him/her to collaborate with you in creating a plan to tackle the child’s reluctance. Urge him/her to communicate directly with the child over the phone, video chat, or email, and try to reduce the child’s apprehensions. Perhaps, a family get-together can help too.
If this doesn’t help, you and the other parent can consider hiring a family therapist or a child counselor. You all can then meet the professional together as a family and try to reduce the child’s reluctance.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Parents are expected to be proactive rather than reactive in following the court-approved parenting plan. Though a parent may not be able to precisely follow the plan, he/she must act in its spirit and stick to the schedule as closely as possible. In general, the unwritten rules of a parenting plan as regards visitation rights are:
- The custodial parent is expected to encourage and motivate the child to spend time with the other parent. If the child knows that both parents love him and is made to understand that it is important that he/she spends time with both of them, then the child may not be reluctant to meet the other parent.
- Once the courts sign off on the parenting plan, the child does not have any say in the matter – but he/she may still skip the meeting, especially if the child is a teenager. When a teenager refuses to visit the other parent, the courts may look at the matter differently – perhaps somewhat more leniently than they would, had the child been much younger. That is because teenagers are generally rebellious and impulsive, and may think that they can make their own decisions. So, judges take the circumstances behind the teenager’s refusal before assigning fault. Note that when a young child misses seeing the other parent, the courts can assume that the custodial parent stopped the visit.
- Do not badmouth the other parent or give the perception to your child that the other parent can harm the child. Also, do not interrogate the child after the visitation because that is like sending a message to the child that you are not too comfortable with him/her meeting the other parent.
- Do not blame your ex-spouse for your child’s reluctance to visit him/her. Give him/her the benefit of doubt and dig deeper into the matter.
The steps outlined above should help you resolve the matters when your child refuses to meet with the other parent.