In the last few months I have had several cases in which children are refusing to attend parenting time or visit with the non-custodial parent.
In one case it is crystal clear why the children are refusing. The father was extremely verbally abusive, emotionally abusive and grabbed one child by the back of the neck. An older child recorded the audio of the father's ten minute rant and emailed it to her mother. The recording made the infamous Alec Baldwin message look like a warm greeting by comparison. The mother filed a Family Court Petition to modify visitation to supervised and sought an Order of Protection. The Court appointed an attorney for the children and later met with each of the three children to find out more about the children's relationship with their father. The judge reported that the children could not remember one fun thing that they did with their father, they could not remember the last time they got a hug and they said they were treated like second class citizens by the new wife. The father's visitation became supervised and now is unsupervised, but he still does not do fun things with the children and still treats them coldly. The Court will not solve his problems and the children will not be forced to attend. The mother still has to "encourage" the children to go but is not to "force" them to go.
In another other current case the parents had shared parenting (equal time) and then the father refused to return the twin 13 year old children to the mother. The children did not call, text or email their mother. The mother acknowledged difficulty with one child who physically has struck her. She claims that there are no problems with the other child. Due to the father's refusal to permit any contact and violation of an existing custody order I prepared a Writ which is a proceeding requiring that the children be brought to court. Since the case is just starting a new temporary schedule was created and an attorney will be appointed for the children. It appears that the peaceful twin is being manipulated either by his brother or father as he would not even look at his mother in court without getting visual approval from them. The mother is trying to get the non-compliant child to enter a court therapy program for children who are at risk but the father does not appear interested. The case will require a great amount of work to sort out which problems are real and which ones have been created.
When children were otherwise seeing a parent and then refuse all contact a careful review of the facts before and after the breakdown must take place. The motivations of each child and parents must be reviewed. An attorney for the children must be appointed so that the children's wishes can be reviewed and probed. The parents must be willing to review their own actions to determine if they are contributing to the problem or are they the victim of a plot. Family therapy should be explored or counseling for either or both parents and/or the children should be considered. Small steps should be taken if a full return to the parenting time is premature. Orders should be followed or modified, if necessary. Careful and skilled representation of all parties is necessary to promote the return of the relationship and parenting time.