What if Your Child Refuses Visitation with the Other Parent?


What happens if a child refuses to see a parent? Teenager Doesn’t Want to Visit Non-custodial Parent. Can a Child Refuse to Visit the Non-custodial Parent? How old does a child have to be to say they don’t want to see a parent?

You and your ex-spouse have finally agreed to a parenting plan and visitation schedule that seems to work for your family.  Everything is running smoothly, that is until your child starts crying and complaining when visitation time comes around.

While it is not unusual for children to express reluctance, or even flat-out refusal, to visit their other parent, it is still the responsibility of the primary custodial parent to put effort into complying with visitation orders and to encourage a healthy relationship between their child and the other parent.  Most states have stated an expectation that the custodial parent must foster and encourage a meaningful relationship with the other parent.  If the custodial parent refuses to support co-parenting, or actively frustrates the relationship with the other parent, courts are able to change custodial parent status to the other.

What happens if a child refuses to see a parent?

What happens if a child refuses to see a parent?

There are various explanations for why children are reluctant to spend time with a parent, ranging from minor reasons related to a child’s personality and preferences, to more serious issues such as parental neglect and/or abuse.

A child’s age, differing household rules, personalities, parenting styles, or parental conflicts are common reasons why a child may have a less than enthusiastic response to a parental visitation. While it’s possible that a child might be reacting to other pressures in his/her life such as problems with peers or in school, in some cases, there may be a significant relationship problem with one or both parents.

The situation becomes even more problematic for parents who have serious concerns about their ex-spouse’s parenting skills and ability to adequately take care of their child’s needs.  While it’s a frustrating and difficult situation to deal with, there are strategies to help parents when their children say ‘no’ to a parental visitation.

Try to Be Objective

While children may complain about their other parent, don’t automatically assume that your ex-spouse is to blame for your child’s rejecting behavior.

Children are usually aware of conflicts between their divorced parents and can sometimes try to manipulate the situation to their advantage, which is especially easy to do when both parents are quick to find fault with each other.  While you should listen to what your child is saying, you should also give your ex-spouse the benefit of the doubt when your child complains or shows an unwillingness to visit the other parent.

As a parent, it’s your responsibility to identify what is really going on with your child.  In order to do this, you need to be objective about the situation and consider other possible explanations for your child’s negative attitude.

Comply with Court Orders

It’s important to remember that court orders regarding visitation and parenting time need to be obeyed or there will be legal consequences.

While children’s wants and needs are important, you don’t want to communicate to them the message that laws do not need to be followed.  Explain and demonstrate to your children that basic rules of social behavior should be followed, even when one doesn’t feel like it.

Structures, rules, and consistency make children feel more secure, and when you make a point to encourage respect for the law as well as your ex-spouse, the impact on your child’s life can be immediate and powerful.

It is possible for your child’s concerns to be resolved without ignoring the parenting plan, violating the court order, or initiating legal action.  Parents can put the effort into complying with child custody and visitation orders, while at the same time communicating with their child and the other parent in an attempt to resolve the underlying issue.

Teenager Doesn’t Want to Visit Non-custodial Parent

When children express a problem with a parent, they should be encouraged to openly communicate with that parent in order to solve relationship problems themselves.  While it’s normal for children, particularly teenagers, to want to avoid problems, healthy problem-solving skills can help them resolve conflicts in their relationships.  Healthy relationship problem solving skills require children to learn how to identify their feelings, directly communicate them, and then listen to what another person has to say in response.

Encourage your child to attempt to resolve any differences with their other parent during visitation.  The focus of attention should be on the child’s feelings and issues, not on complying with the court order, which may put a child in the middle of a parental legal battle.

Can a Child Refuse to Visit the Non-custodial Parent?

Can a Child Refuse to Visit the Non-custodial Parent?

It happens.  For purposes of this discussion, we are assuming the custodial parent has not encouraged the child’s negative attitude.  (See our  videos discussing parental alienation.)  Most states will leave it up to individual judges to make this difficult call.  Absent abuse allegation, there are a few questions most courts will consider.  Why?  Is the reason satisfying?  Or, is it a young person trying to test boundaries?  How old is the child?  Older children have more say.  For example, a judge could tell a 14-year-old, “Yes, you must visit.”  For a 17-year-old, the same judge may say, “If she has a car, she can go wherever she wants.  How am I going to parent her when you can’t or won’t? Have a nice day.”  Ultimately, the seriousness of allegations and reasonableness of everyone involved will be judged.

How old does a child have to be to say they don’t want to see a parent?

There is no particular age a child can say this.  Instead, the focus is on the totality of circumstances.  Most judges will say parents should never tell a child they don’t have to visit.  On the other hand, most judges will not expect a parent to physically force an older child to visit the other parent.

Most judges will expect the custodial parent to make every effort.  What can a custodial parent do?  Start with a bit of cajoling and strong encouragement.  If the child still refuses visitation, the custodial parent may try direct discussion with the other parent.  A custodial parent shouldn’t just throw up their hands.  If found back in court, a custodial parent should be prepared to share with the judge very specific examples of making appropriate and reasonable efforts to facilitate visitation or risk losing status as the custodial parent.

Be Open to Professional Assistance

If that fails, encourage therapy or counseling for all involved.  Professional counseling may not always be necessary, but early intervention can help to quickly resolve problems and promote family cooperation, so be open to any professional assistance which may be necessary or helpful.

If you have a legitimate reason to believe that your child may be in danger as a result of neglect or abuse by the other parent, you need to seek emergency assistance from an experienced family law attorney in addition to seeking psychological counseling for your child.

While there are no guarantees for family happiness, good faith attempts by parents and children to problem solve can make a big difference in supporting healthy family relationships after a divorce.

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