When parents split – whether through divorce or separation – they need a custody order. The parents can create their own schedule if they agree on the details and submit it to the court for approval. All too often, however, the parents, who are already in a volatile situation, cannot come to an agreement. If that is the case, the judge will create a visitation and custody schedule that is based on the children’s best interests.
The custody order determines who becomes the primary caretaker or whether custody is shared by both partners. It should also contain a weekly breakdown, weekends included, of which parent has custody of the children. The custody order also needs to include a holiday and summer vacation schedule.
Once the court has approved the custody and visitation schedule, both parents are legally bound to follow its directives and could get into trouble if they are in violation. However, what happens if it is the child that refuses to abide by the schedule and won’t visit the other parent?
What Are a Parent’s Responsibilities Regarding Child Visitations?
The visitation order is legally binding, and the parent must comply. If the child is too sick to visit, the other parent needs to be notified at the earliest opportunity.
Can Parents Be Held Liable if the Child Refuses Visitation?
The court acts on the assumption that the parents will follow the custody order. If visitations are missed, the custodial parent may face contempt charges, especially if the other parent files an Order to Show Cause indicating that it is the parent that is preventing visits. It is then the responsibility of the custodial parent to prove that he or she is attempting to remain in compliance but that the child is being uncooperative.
Judges will listen to both arguments, but they expect a parent to be able to make the child follow the visitation schedule, although the judge may be more sympathetic if the situation involves a truculent adolescent instead of a toddler. Much will depend on whether the judge believes it is the parent or the child that is preventing visitations.
If the Child Will Not Cooperate
Children can be stubborn. If the child is being uncooperative, the parent needs to notify the other parent immediately. In the event a protective order prevents the parents from communicating directly with each other, the parent should notify his or her attorney. Assuming the parent has made every effort to deliver the child to the other parent, and the child simply won’t budge, it is important to notify the attorney regarding the refusal. Make a detailed record of the incident for future reference.
Find Out the Reason for the Refusal to Visit
The custodial parent could attempt to contact the other parent and have that parent speak with the child. Children are easily confused by divorce, and perhaps a talk could help the child become less angry and more cooperative. If the parent has any suspicion of abuse on the part of the other parent, an attorney should be notified immediately.
However, there can be other reasons the child doesn’t want to visit. He or she may not like the rules set up by the other co-parent. Or the child doesn’t want to be away from his or her friends and their usual activities. Another reason could be the child’s dislike for the co-parent’s new partner. An honest discussion, perhaps with the entire family and a counselor, could resolve the problem.
Ultimately the custodial parent is expected to maintain control of the situation and of the child and ensure that the visits happen. Parents can forget that they are the ones in charge. At the same time, the parent may wish to consider whether he or she has been bad-mouthing the other parent and thus affected the child’s attitude toward said other parent. One rule of co-parenting is that no matter what the cause, never denigrate the co-parent in front of the child.
Legal Ramifications for Refusing Visitation
Regardless of the reasons for the refusal, the custodial parent is ultimately responsible for ensuring court-mandated visitations. The court expects the co-parents to work together to achieve the desired results and may hold the custodial parent legally liable. The age of the child can impact the judge’s attitude and decision.
Talk to the Co-Parent
The parents are divorced, but they remain a single unit when it comes to parenting. If the child has voiced issues – such as the other parent being too strict, doesn’t allow him or her to have friends over, bedtime is unreasonable, etc. – perhaps a compromise can be found. Parents have different parenting styles, and no one has to be right or wrong, but the child should feel comfortable in both homes. Perhaps the child can arrive at a workable solution.
Co-parenting is never easy. And children can be difficult for no other reason than that they are children. All parties should understand the legal significance of a court-mandated visitation order. Both parents have a right to see the child. However, within that concept, there is a lot of room to maneuver and comprise to help all parties reach a satisfactory solution.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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