What if My Child Doesn't Want to Visit with His or Her Other Parent?

It's time for your nine-year-old child's weekend visit with your ex, and, as usual, she's dragging her feet. "I don't want to go!" she whines as you attempt to pack her overnight bag and push her toward the waiting car. "Why do I have to go?" she cries, tears welling up in her big blue eyes.

Then there's your fifteen-year-old son. When you ask him if he's ready to go, he rolls his eyes and tells you he's not going with dad this weekend. When you ask him why, he retorts, "I have plans this weekend," and with that, he puts on his headphones and shuts his eyes. Meanwhile, your ex is impatiently honking the horn when no children have appeared within five minutes of his arrival.

What are you supposed to do? There is no easy answer to this situation. As a custodial parent, part of your job is to foster a relationship between your children and your ex, no matter how difficult you might find it. Despite the reasons behind your break-up, experts agree that in the vast majority of circumstances, it is very important that children maintain good relationships with both parents, and that the parents work together to achieve that goal.

So, if your young child doesn't feel like visiting, or doesn't want to leave mom behind, you really need to encourage - and even require - that she visit with her dad as scheduled. Explain to your child that part of having your parents living apart is spending time with both parents, and that both of you love her equally and want to spend time with her. Therefore, it is really not fair to your ex, or your child, if you don't make your child go along with the visitation order. Plus, if you are simply allowing your young child to not visit whenever she feels like it, you are allowing her to make a decision that belongs to an adult, not a child.

As a practical matter, you can be in trouble if you don't comply with the court's order on visitation. Your ex can ask the judge to hold you in contempt of court if you are intentionally not complying with the visitation order by not sending your child for visitation. The bottom line is that you are the parent, and you are responsible for your child's actions. Thus, it is you who will be responsible, and who may have to answer to the court, if your child doesn't visit as ordered.

Teenagers, on the other hand, present a whole different set of considerations. You cannot physically force a fifteen-year-old boy to visit with his father if he doesn't want to. Threatening your teen with punishment or restricting his freedom is not likely to get what you want in this circumstance, either. The hard truth is that a teenager most likely would rather be with his friends than with you or your ex, and there is nothing exciting for your teen about spending a weekend with dad, away from home and those friends. Perhaps in recognition of this fact, the courts largely tend to hold the teenagers responsible for their behavior with respect to visitation, not the custodial parent. Because the custodial parent typically cannot make a teenager visit as ordered, then the court is unlikely to find the parent in contempt of court for failing to comply with the visitation order. Unfortunately, this leaves the non-custodial parent of a rebellious teenager largely without a remedy for enforcing his visitation order.

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