What To Do When Child Refuses Visitation

When your child refuses to visit or speak with the other parent, this is a major problem with or without an existing court order. If there is a court order one parent is threatening to bring a contempt application or to call the police each time visitation does not take place. The other parent is threatening to go to court to reduce or restrict the parenting time. Either way it is a bad situation for the child and parents. Likewise, it is not always so easy for the court to decide what to do or not do.

In the past I would tell the "custodial" parent that their obligation is to encourage and not discourage the child to see or speak with the other parent. The age of the child is clearly a major factor in how successful that will be. In addition, the reason(s) why the child is refusing is also a major factor. The easy cases are where there is clear wrongful conduct by one or the other parent.

If the non-custodial parent is physically or psychologically abusive, has an alcohol or drug problem, completely ignores the child during contact, exposes the child to inappropriate situations then it is relatively easy for the court to address the issues and protect the child. The child, if the case is back in court, will have an Attorney For The Child (AFC) appointed to represent and advocate for the child.

If the custodial parent is negative about visits, disparaging the other parent, telling the child that he/she does not have to go, is tempting the child with other options just before scheduled visits, manipulating the child and engaging in conduct designed to impede or discourage visitation then the court will be able to see that pretty quickly also.

So the more difficult cases are where the conduct is not so clear or where the child's reasons may appear to be unsupported or perhaps even just reluctance because there is less fun or less to do at the other parent's home. Or perhaps the child believes that they do not get enough attention or does not want to travel. In other words, there is not clearly wrongful behavior by the parent who desires the parenting time.

Often the court will recommend family counseling/therapy for the child and the non-custodial parent.  Sometimes a co-parenting class may be recommended.  The parents could be directed to use an app like Family Wizard so that all emails and texts are recorded, can be monitored and can be reproduced for future court appearances.  

In a July decision from upstate NY, the judge stated that a parent who "permits a child to refuse agreed visitation without consequence is not fostering a relationship between the child and the other parent".  The concept of fostering the relationship with the other parent has become of all the custody determination factors the one given the most weight in the contested custody decision process.  The court while recognizing that every case is different stated that in the absence of a child with mental health problems or in treatment there could be "house rules" to enforce contact including but not limited to:

1.No permission for extracurricular activities.

2. Denial of participation in camp, summer program or activities.

3. Restriction or denial of usage of electronic devices including cell phones, tablets, computer, video games, etc.

4. Denial of play dates or visits with friends.

5. Immediate return home after school ends.

While I would normally tell a parent that the fastest way to get a child to want to change custody is to do the above things, this is the reverse where these steps are being utilized to motivate time with the other parent.

If you face these problems, it is important to seek legal advice from an experienced matrimonial/family law attorney for guidance as the issue is complicated and so are the steps to progress.