In our previous post, we discussed how to handle custody or visitation refusal that results when a parent refuses to bring the child for a custody exchange. In this post, we deal with visitation refusal where the child refuses to go with the other parent as scheduled.
It can be gut-wrenching after a custody battle to hear your child say, “I don’t want to see you anymore.” It could be one time, it could be months. It could be from a six year old, or a sixteen year old. What do you do in these situations?
First, the child should not “run the train,” as that is the job of the parent. If the child suddenly refuses to go at a custody exchange, it is a signal. If the other parent is trying to make the exchange happen but still having difficulty, the parents together should make every effort to complete a scheduled exchange, particularly if the child is young. At the same time, if the problem persists, the parents together should seek counseling to help address the issue before it becomes much worse.
Second, if the parent with whom the child wants to stay immediately backs up the child, it is now a collective signal of what could be parental alienation – the deliberate attempt over time by one parent to discourage a child from wanting to be with the other parent. Parental alienation can be emotionally devastating; it is best to recognize it early and deal with it sooner rather than later. If the other parent seems to encourage a refusal of scheduled custody by supporting the refusing child, delay will only make matters worse and embolden the alienating parent. At this point, the parent denied custody should contact an attorney and use every means to get custody back on schedule and utilize therapy (individual or family) if necessary.
Third, if the alienating parent will not give, the other parent will have to resort to the legal options we discussed in the previous post – contempt motion or family access motion. Depending upon the cause of the alienation, it might be beneficial to have the involvement of a guardian ad litem, an independent lawyer representing the interests of the child who could help the parents and the court try to see the underlying reasons for the child’s refusal.
Parents should know that just because a child refuses to go as scheduled for custody, the child does not automatically win. Parents are to follow the schedule and should encourage visits unless it would be apparent doing so would put the child in physical or emotional danger. If the child is young, assisting the child into the car should not be difficult. But the older the child, the harder it will be to physically assist, and no parent should resort to physical force.
Repeated refusal by a child is an indication of a serious problem – it could be an issue unique to the child that has nothing to do with the parents, it could be a signal of deeper psychological problems, or it could be the result of parental alienation. At this point, only a therapist can help unpack the problems and work to restore parent-child relationships.
The best legal strategy will be to try and get the child and the family into counseling and to restore custody as soon as possible. If the situation involves more complex issues, it may require more than just contempt actions but changes to custody. Each family is different, but the one constant is that acquiescence to the refusal will only make repairing the relationship more difficult, so delay is never a good option.
If you have questions about custody or visitation refusal, contact us – we can help.