One of the most common questions I hear from clients as a family law attorney is: “At what age can a child refuse visitation?” My question to those parents is: “Who is driving the bus in your household, you or your child?” As long as you have custody orders in place, and the other parent doesn’t pose a threat to your child’s safety and wellbeing, you should do your very best to abide by the visitation schedule.
If you don’t follow the visitation schedule in your child custody orders because your girl or boy doesn’t want to go with mom or dad, you could face legal consequences, including jail time. The child custody orders you and the other parent agreed to are legally binding and not a piece of paper you simply reference on a whim.
Of course, there will always be circumstances where a child doesn’t want to spend time or live with one of their parents. If you find yourself in that situation, I’ll share some insight below on what steps you can take to manage visitation and co-parenting when your girl or boy doesn’t want to go with mom or dad.
At what age can a child refuse to see a parent?
At what age can a child refuse to see a parent? Children below 18 lack a legal right to decline visitation, but those aged 12 and above can voice their preferences to the judge. The judge may consider these preferences but is not bound by them.
There are many reasons a child won’t want to visit mom or dad in a shared custody situation. Perhaps they don’t like the rules or other people (like mom or dad’s new partner) who live at the other parent’s house. Maybe they can’t hang out with their friends or enjoy activities they normally do when at the primary parent’s house. Whatever the reason, both parents need to do their best to follow the visitation schedule because it is legally binding.
Our Fort Worth and Dallas family law attorneys frequently get questions from clients about teenagers who are pushing back about visitation. For example, “My 14-year-old doesn’t want to visit their father who is the non-custodial parent, what can I do?” If your teenager doesn’t want to visit non-custodial parent, and they are under the age of 18, you as the parent are obliged to do your very best to get your child to abide by the visitation schedule—or risk going to jail.
Do I have to force my child to visit with the other parent?
I’m a big proponent of letting people know there are ways to both prevent and rectify a broken familial relationship. If your 14-year-old refuses to return to their custodial parent or visit their non-custodial parent, you must do everything you can and exhaust all efforts to try to foster and maintain the relationship between your child and the other parent. If all your efforts fail, then and only then do you involve the court system, and only as a last resort should you involve the child in the court process.
Now, there are defenses when it comes to not having to physically force a child into a vehicle. But keep in mind, those cases are very extreme and rare, and again, you have to exhaust every remedy. Your child would have to be aware that you could face jail time and still refuse to adhere to the order. That’s one of the prongs for these types of defenses, among others.
I’m generally not a proponent of these defenses because of the undue stress they put on a child. Imagine the pressure a 13-year-old would feel, knowing that “mommy’s going to go to jail if I don’t go see daddy?”
If in fact, the other parent does pose a threat to the child, that’s a different story. However, you do need to pursue legal channels if you want to withhold visitation from a non-custodial parent or custodial parent. You should contact law enforcement and Child Protective Services if your child is in danger, and consult a family law attorney regarding what steps you can take legally to protect your child.
What if the other parent wants to resume court-ordered visitation after being an absentee parent?
We often see situations where a child doesn’t want to visit a dad or mom who basically blew them off in the past by not exercising the custody and visitation awarded to them. Then, all of a sudden that parent decides to get their act back together, perhaps they meet a new partner and want to move on with their life, and now they want to resume visitation as the court originally ordered.
It’s easy to see why a child wouldn’t want to see that parent. After all, the parent let them down in the past. In such cases, there are remedial measures you can take, but you need to take them well before it gets to the point where absentee mom or dad wants to reinsert themselves into their child’s life.
If someone is not exercising the possession and access the court ordered them to receive, you should push the gas pedal early on and ask the court to put remedial measures in place. That might include requiring the other parent to give 48 hours advance notice of their plans to exercise visitation among other directives. Your family law attorney can explain your options.
On the other hand, parents who leave their custody orders as is will need to allow the other parent to resume visitation according to those orders because again, those orders are legally binding. If you have concerns about your child resuming (or beginning) their relationship with the other parent, speak with an attorney about your options and consider contacting a family counselor for guidance.
What to do if your child doesn’t want to see their other parent
Here’s the deal, if a child doesn’t want to live with a parent or visit a non-custodial parent, it’s usually because one or both parents allowed the child to drive the bus and make decisions the child wasn’t equipped to make. The child gets used to getting his or her way, instead of getting used to following the rules the parents make, including the custody orders the parents agreed to follow.
That being said, you’re most likely reading this blog because your child doesn’t want to have visitation with the other parent (or you). So, what can you do?
Calmly listen to the child’s concerns first, then explain why it’s important to spend time with both parents. “Both mommy and daddy love you and want to spend time with you. We also have rules to follow and one of the rules is that you visit mom/dad on these days, and that’s good!”
Speak positively about the other parent at all times. Some kids don’t want to visit parent A because parent B makes negative comments about them. Don’t be that parent. It’s not only sad and confusing for your child (they are one-half of the other parent after all), it can make the child feel anxious about visiting the other parent. If you can’t stand the other parent, keep those thoughts and feelings to yourself.
Try to keep custody exchanges low-key, stress-free and routine. You don’t want to be packing backpacks at the last minute or gripe about custody exchange pick-up and drop-off locations. Plan ahead and follow a similar routine as you prepare to send your child to the other parent’s home. This will bring some normalcy to the situation and help the child feel safe, relaxed and more accepting of going to see mom or dad. (If you practice this “routine” from the get-go, you’ll be less likely to be wondering at what age can a child refuse to see a parent later.)
Promptly communicate any visitation issues with the other parent. It’s always important to keep the lines of communication open with the other parent, whether that’s by phone, text or an online tool like Our Family Wizard and AppClose®. Just keep in mind, if your child doesn’t want to visit the other parent, you still need to do your best to get them to go because you could face serious legal consequences if you don’t.
Try to work out any visitation issues as a family. Even if you and the other parent don’t live under the same roof, and even if you don’t get along the best, it is in your child’s best interest to show a united front when it comes to custody and visitation issues. If your child is struggling to have a good relationship with both parents, a family counselor can be a great resource. He or she can meet with the child individually and/or with all parties to work through challenges together.
Have questions about child custody and visitation? Seek legal advice
If you live in the Dallas / Fort Worth area and would like to speak with a family law attorney about child custody, visitation or child support in Texas, contact us. You can schedule a confidential case review with a lawyer at our firm by calling our office at (817) 336-4444 or by connecting with us online.
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