A child’s visitation refusal can have significant emotional and legal impacts. Not only does it put both parents in a tough situation, but it may stir up distrust and suspicion. From a legal standpoint, failure to comply with a court-ordered visitation agreement may result in severe penalties.
If your child’s safety is a concern, speak with a family legal matters attorney to learn what options are available.
As a parent, you want what is best for your child, so how do you handle your child’s visitation refusal?
Understand Why Your Child Refuses Visitation
The first step is to learn more about why your child does not want to visit with the other parent. The following are common reasons:
- The other parent has rules the child does not want to follow;
- The other parent lives far from the child’s friends, school, sporting events, and other social activities;
- The child blames the other parent for the divorce or separation;
- The child does not get along with other adults or children who live at the co-parent’s home; and
- Both parents argue in front of the child, making him or her uncomfortable about going to the other’s house.
This list is certainly not exhaustive, but may give you an idea of why the child is refusing visitation.
There are potentially valid reasons to keep your child from visiting the other parent, which include:
- Alcohol or drug abuse;
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse;
- Parental incarceration; and
- Fear for the child’s safety.
Do not withhold visitation because it is inconvenient or the co-parent is behind on child support. These are not valid reasons to violate the visitation agreement.
Even if you believe you have a valid reason, you risk legal consequences if you unilaterally withhold visitation without seeking help from the courts. Reach out to an attorney for assistance immediately if you are concerned that visitation may impact your child’s well-being.
Legal Impacts of Child Refusing Visitation
Both parents must carefully handle the child’s visitation refusal or else they could put themselves in legal jeopardy.
The primary care (custodial) parent is the parent the child lives primarily with and has the legal responsibility to ensure their son or daughter visits with the other parent. However, both parents are responsible to comply with the terms of the court’s visitation order. Even if the child is a teenager, you must follow the visitation order until the child turns 18. In Iowa, there is no age in which a minor (under age 18) child can choose whether to visit or not.
If a parent has interfered with the other parent’s custody or visitation rights, the co-parent can ask the court to intervene and enforce the terms of the custody order. The interfering parent will have an opportunity to explain why they are not complying, and the judge will take the child’s age into consideration. For example, forcing a sixteen-year-old to visit with a parent may not be possible although the custodial parent makes every effort to encourage the visitation. Courts do not look favorably on a parent who discourages their child from visiting with the other parent.
If the judge determines that the parent is in violation of the visitation arrangement, that parent may be punished for contempt and serve up to 30 days in jail or be subject to other sanctions, including the payment of the other parent’s lawyer fees.
Keep in mind that if you and your co-parent enter into an informal visitation agreement, the court will not enforce it. However, if you enter into a written stipulation, you can ask the court to adopt it as an enforceable order.
How to Handle the Situation When Your Child Refuses Visitation
While every child, family, and scenario is different, here are some helpful tips on handling your child’s visitation refusal.
Learn Why Your Child Is Refusing Visitation
This may not be possible to do with every child, particularly with young children, but do your best to figure out why your son or daughter does not want to spend time with their other parent. Explain that both parents care about him or her and that you are always there to discuss any concerns.
If your child will not open up to you, bring another family member, counselor, or other third party into the conversation.
Document the Child’s Visitation Refusals
Each time your child resists visiting with the other parent, document the incident. Write down the date and your child’s reason for not wanting to go. This may be useful if you have to go before a judge to explain why you are not following the visitation order.
Speak with the Other Parent
As mentioned earlier, missing visitation is a violation of your visitation agreement. Keeping the other parent informed of the situation will weigh in your favor. Document these conversations in case you need to use them as evidence before a judge.
The co-parent may also be able to provide some insight as to why the child does not like being with him or her. You may be able to have a joint discussion with your child and the other parent to resolve the issue.
Be mindful that as your child ages you may need to modify the visitation schedule. For example, a three-year-old is not going to be as concerned about missing time with her friends as a 13-year-old. A simple discussion may prevent a lot of emotional damage and legal threats. Courts appreciate when parents try to work together to solve the problem.
Create a Positive Experience Going into the Visitation
When it’s time for your child to visit the other parent, be encouraging. Remind your child that the time spent with the other parent is important.
Be prepared for the visit by packing up your child’s belongings and not rushing out the door.
Save any arguments between you and the other parent for a private conversation. Drop-offs are not the time to nit-pick at each other.
Be the Parent
Ultimately, you are the parent and decision-maker for your son or daughter. By law, a child under the age of 18 cannot make decisions for themselves related to a custody agreement, which includes visitation.
As long as your child is not in danger, it may be necessary to push them a bit. Be considerate of their feelings and emotions, but remind your child how important it is for both parents to build a relationship with them.
Take Legal Action
There are certain legal actions you can take if your child refuses visitation. Unless your child’s welfare is in danger, this should be your last resort. Parents often get defensive and make the situation worse when the other parent threatens to take them to court.
If the current visitation schedule is not working for your child, you may petition the court to modify the visitation agreement. To grant a modification, the court must find that there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
There are situations where there is no alternative but to ask the court to intervene. However, it is best to make every effort to first talk with the other parent and see if you can reach a compromise.
Our Iowa Family Legal Matters Lawyer Can Help
When a child refuses visitation with a parent, it can have long-lasting impacts on everyone involved. These situations should not be taken lightly. Attorney and founder of 303 Legal, P.C., Jonathan D. Schmidt is an empathetic yet fierce advocate for his clients. Contact 303 Legal, P.C., today to discuss your situation.