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It's time for your 9-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 pack her overnight bag. "Why do I have to go?" she cries.
Then your 15-year-old son rolls his eyes and says he's not going. "I have plans this weekend," he says while putting on his headphones. Now your ex is impatiently honking the horn when no children have appeared. What is a parent 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 it may be. Despite the reasons for the break up, experts agree it's crucial 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.
Speak to your child and lay out that their parents must live apart but that both of you love them equally and want to spend time with them. 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.
The Best Interest of the Child
Always remember that the ultimate question most family court judges will ask is: "What is in the best interests of the child?" Hence, most often, the court will hold that it's in child's best interest to continue the relationship with both parents.
And while the "best interest" standard varies from one state to the next, some factors are common in the best interest analysis, including:
Speak with an Experienced Family Law Attorney
As a parent, your child's best interests are always the most important factor. For a better understanding your parental rights and to enforce your legal right to see your child, you'll need to understand the laws of your state. Start by speaking with a competent family law attorney.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified child custody lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local child custody attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.