What if my child refuses visitation with the other parent?


What if my child refuses visitation with the other parent?


Divorce is difficult, and one of the toughest issues in divorce is creating a child custodial agreement. Ideally, both parents should create a custodial agreement together. However, if parents cannot agree, a family court judge will review the case and create the custodial agreement.

Different Types of Custodial Agreements

Regardless of who creates the plan, the goal of all parties should be to create a plan that is in the best interest of the child. With this in mind, there are a variety of custodial arrangements that are available: physical and legal custody for both parents, physical custody for both parents and legal custody for one parent, or sole legal and physical custody for one parent.

What if my child does not want to visit the non-custodial parent?

If both parents have been given shared physical custody, it's not unusual for a child to eventually refuse to visit the noncustodial parent. If this occurs, it’s important to understand your options, including your legal obligations.

Unfortunately, while it’s generally best to default to the custodial arrangement, rulings in some courts in some states have not been so definitive. In fact, in Texas, there are courts that will force the child to adhere to the visitation schedule, while other courts will not. With that in mind, let’s review your options. It’s best, however, to discuss your case with a family law attorney in your state who is familiar with the state’s laws.

1. Talk to Your Ex-Spouse

Depending on the situation and your relationship with your ex-spouse, the simplest solution may be to talk to your ex-spouse. A simple conversation may be all that is needed to resolve the issues.

For example, maybe your child doesn’t want to visit you ex because they do not like their new girlfriend. Maybe your ex would be willing to spend time alone with your daughter. Children also might feel that they are being disloyal if they visit the other parent. This issue might be resolved with a conversation about the importance of each relationship.

It’s important for parents to present a unified front that they, not the children, are in charge of visitation. This is especially true if the child is young or does not have a valid reason for not wanting to visit.

2. Default to the Legal Custodial Arrangement

If talking to your ex-spouse does not resolve the issue (and your child is not in physical danger), it’s generally best to follow the pre-established custodial arrangement—at least until you can determine if there is a valid reason to modify the arrangement. More importantly, in many cases, if the custodial parent refuses to follow the custodial arrangement, they may be held in contempt of court.

With that said, however, there are valid reasons why a child should not visit a parent or why the custodial arrangement should be modified, which leads us to another option.

3. Modify the Custodial Arrangement

There are valid reasons that a child does not or should not visit the noncustodial parent. Talk to your child, validate their feelings, and find out the reasons for the refusal. Depending on the reason, the court may allow the custodial agreement to be modified. Although the court will need to determine that the change is in the best interests of the child, common reasons for modifications include:

  • The parent is no longer providing a safe environment for the child
  • The parent has violated a court order
  • There have been significant changes in the parent’s lifestyle that are not in the best interests of the child
  • Changes have been made informally by both parents and the changes are working for all parties involved
  • Issues of domestic violence exist
  • The child has physical symptoms of stress
  • There is evidence of extramarital sexual conduct (beyond cohabitation with a romantic partner)
  • The parent has been forced to relocate

Keep in mind that if you are the parent petitioning for a change to the custodial agreement, and the other parent is not a proponent of the change, you will have to present evidence to prove that the modification is justified and in the best interests of your child.

Evidence can include records of the dates that your child refused to adhere to the schedule and the reasons for the refusals; information about the negative emotional effects of the visitation on the child gathered from a child psychologist (the psychologist may also need to testify in court); or evidence of any of the factors identified above.

4. Agree to an Informal Custodial Modification

If your child refuses to visit with the noncustodial parent, another option is to talk to your ex-spouse and agree to an informal custodial modification. Changes can include which parent pays for what expenses or what days a child will visit. Remember, however, that although this type of arrangement may be easier and less expensive than a formal modification, neither parent is legally required to comply with these changes.

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Whether you're facing a legal issue or just seeking information, Justipedia aims to be your most trusted resource for legal information on the Web. With the help of legal professionals across the country, we put the law in plain language to help answer your top legal questions.

Justipedia was founded by Internet veterans Cory Janssen and Mitchell Allen. Janssen founded Investopedia.com and grew it one of the largest investing sites on the Web. Allen is an author, speaker and the founder of LeadRival, the leading provider of pay-per-action advertising in consumer legal services.

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