When couples divorce, part of the final order for dissolution of marriage includes a child custody arrangement. Unmarried parents can also have a judge order custody for their child or children. It is best if parents can work out the terms of the custody arrangement together. But if they cannot agree, a judge will dictate the terms. Once a judge issues a custody order, each parent must follow that order. Neither parent can modify the order on their own without approval by a judge. If parents do not obey the order for any reason, they risk being held in contempt of court and facing sanctions.
But what about when you have a child who refuses to go to the other parent’s house? Can you get into trouble if your child simply will not budge? Must you physically force your child to go? The general answer to these questions is “not really,” but that is not a complete answer. So let’s look at how your child’s visitation refusal can affect you and what you can do about it.
Understand Your Obligations
It is helpful to begin our discussion by clarifying each parent’s obligations when it comes to following the child custody order. It’s interesting to note that child custody orders detail exactly when children spend time with each parent, but they say nothing about a parent’s responsibilities in ensuring visitation. This leaves some questioning how far a parent must go to make visitation happen.
Most judges assume that when they issue a custody order, both parents will do their best to abide by that order. They expect each parent to act reasonably and do everything they can to facilitate a healthy relationship with the co-parent. So if the child gets sick or cannot make a scheduled visitation, most judges would consider it reasonable for the custodial parent to inform the other parent as soon as possible. As long as the custodial parent keeps the communication lines open and is willing to schedule make-up visitation time, most judges consider such alterations reasonable. Likewise, suppose a parent has difficulty getting their teenager to visit the co-parent. In that case, judges will likely not see that as the parent’s fault unless there is evidence of coercion or undue influence.
The bottom line is that your responsibility as a co-parent is to make your child available for scheduled visitation with the other parent. That means driving the child to scheduled drop-off locations and not intentionally interfering with the schedule. If you interfere with custody without just cause, a judge could find you in contempt of court and issue appropriate penalties.
But What If My Child Refuses Visitation?
But what happens when the child simply refuses to go? Typically, if a parent misses visitation time with their child once or twice, they don’t immediately take legal action. But if it happens repeatedly, the parent who is missing out on time with their child may take the matter to court. The first action they can take is filing a motion for an order to show cause. This type of order essentially requires a party to justify why they failed to follow the custody order. This gives you the chance to tell the judge that it is your child who refuses to see the other parent and that you are doing everything you can to facilitate visitation.
What it really comes down to in an order to show cause hearing is whether the judge believes you. If the judge thinks you are doing anything to encourage your child to stay away from your ex, you may not be happy with the results. But if the judge is convinced you are doing everything you can and that the child is preventing visitation, they are likely to understand and not impose penalties.
Steps to Facilitate Visitation
Here are some things you can do to promote visitation and protect yourself in the process.
As soon as your child begins to show signs of reluctance when it is time to visit their other parent, start a journal. Write down everything the child says. Record the emotions they exhibit as you discuss the impending custody exchange.
Immediately Inform the Other Parent
It is critical to inform the other parent of any visitation interruptions promptly and in writing. Don’t make a phone call. You want a written record of your attempts to keep the other parent informed. Write an email or a text that you can show a judge to verify your efforts. If the situation gets bad enough, you may also want to tell your attorney what is happening.
Document Attempts to Rectify
Be sure to document everything you do to encourage your child to see their other parent. Document this in your journal as well as in texts or emails to your ex. And really make an effort to facilitate visitation. You can do this by:
- Reasoning with the child yourself;
- Encouraging the other parent to call the child and speak with them; and
- Inviting the other parent to your home to talk with the child.
These actions will show everyone, including your ex, that you are doing your best. It can also help the other parent understand the difficult situation you are facing.
Suspicion of Abuse
Sometimes, when children vehemently refuse to see a parent, there might be signs of abuse. If you have a legitimate reason to believe that your child is being harmed while in the other parent’s home, it is time to call your attorney. They can guide you on how to protect your child and gather evidence to prove your suspicions. But in the absence of abuse, you need to do your best to adhere to the visitation schedule.
Let Our Family Law Professionals Help
If you are experiencing difficulties with your child custody arrangements, the experienced attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC can help. We have decades of experience helping people sort out child custody matters that come up during a divorce, after divorce, or when a couple has a child but has never been married. If you need assistance working with your co-parent on creating a custody plan, or if circumstances have significantly changed since the judge issued your custody order, you can come to us. We will assess your situation and thoroughly advise you on your legal rights and options. Call us today or contact us online to set up a free consultation in our Clarksville or Springfield office.