You’ve been through the court process and gotten a child custody order that delineates the custodial schedule with you and the other parent. Things went well for a while, but eventually, your child came back from a visit and indicated to you that they don’t want to go stay with the other parent anymore. As a parent, this can put you in a sticky situation, especially with older children whom you just can’t pick up and put in a car for a visit. You know that if visitation doesn’t occur there is a chance you could be held in contempt of court, so what do you do when your child doesn’t want to visit the other parent?
With teenage children, this is a frequent issue in custody cases. Sometimes the child’s reasons for not wanting to visit are as simple as, “I have more fun at your house than at dad’s house.” Other times, the issues can be more serious, including emotional abuse, substance abuse, or even domestic violence. If domestic violence towards the child is an issue, you can file for a domestic violence restraining order on behalf of the minor child. However, if the child’s reasons for not wanting to visit are not related to safety, what are your options?
A contempt ruling requires a court to find that the violating parent is in willful violation of a court order. When it is the child that refuses to visit, it can be difficult for a court to hold the custodial parent in contempt. However, if a court can find that the parent deliberately interfered with or in some way frustrated visitation by the non-custodial parent previously, this can support a finding of willfulness. Examples of deliberate interference are normally described as a failure to encourage the child to comply with the visitation order.
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Encouragement can take many forms, including telling the child that they should visit the other parent, driving the child to the exchange location, offering for the non-custodial parent to visit the child at the custodial parents home or in an alternate location, and reinforcing to the child that they should maintain a relationship with the other parent. It is highly advised that you keep all conversations regarding the noncustodial parent positive. Here are examples of actions that could be construed as deliberate interference thus supporting a contempt finding:
- Making statements like “you don’t have to visit if you don’t want to.”
- Excessively questioning the minor child about what happened during their recent visit
- Expressing anger with the child for discussing the other parent or communicating details about a recent visit with the other parent
- Making promises to the child if they decline to visit with the other parent.
- Influencing (“coaching”) a child to develop a negative opinion about the other parent or custodial time with the other parent.
Courts do not take kindly to one parent modifying a custody order on their own volition. In any event, if your child doesn’t want to visit with the other parent, take appropriate action to remedy the situation before you end up in front of a judge trying to prove that you did all you could to encourage visitation. It may be as simple as speaking with your co-parent if the child doesn’t want to visit and possibly seeking individual therapy. If safety is an issue, take the appropriate legal action of filing for a domestic violence protective order or calling Child Protective Services instead of not allowing visitation on your own.