What to Do If My Child Refuses Visitation?

avatarby Addison Dowling FenderLast updated Oct 12, 2020Category: Custody

Custody and visitation matters can be difficult to navigate. The waters become even murkier when a child refuses to visit the other parent.. 

What should you do if your child doesn’t want to visit you or the other parent? Can a child be forced to visit a parent? We’ll answer those questions and more below. 

What Happens When A Child Refuses Visitation?

When a divorce or legal separation occurs, parents must abide by a custody order that likely details a visitation schedule. The custody order determines who has legal and physical custody. A visitation schedule defines when and where each parent can visit their child. 

But what if a child doesn’t want to follow the schedule? When this happens, there can be major consequences, like the following:

  • Emotional Consequences: No one wants to watch their child have a meltdown when they drop him/her off at the other parent’s house. It’s also heart wrenching to see your child cry when “forced” to visit with you. These episodes can be  emotionally damaging to both parents and the child. 
  • Relational Consequences: When a child refuses visitation, distrust develops between parents. They may suspect that the other parent has manipulated the child into not wanting to visit. Or worse– they may wonder whether the other parent has harmed the child.
  • Legal Consequences: Not abiding by a Court ordered visitation schedule puts both parents in legal jeopardy. Courts may accuse the custodial parent of refusing visitation. The visiting parent can also be liable for inappropriate conduct if they quarrel over visitation rights in the child’s presence. 

Why Your Child Refuses Visitation

If your child has made it clear that they don’t want to visit you (or the other parent), you might be wondering why. It’s important to understand your child so you can solve your visitation issues. 

However, it’s best NOT to question the child yourself. This can cause more emotional damage. It may also result in unwanted legal issues.  Instead, schedule a meeting with a child counselor or a Beaufort family law attorney. 

These are the most common reasons why a child refuses visitation:

  1. Stress and Anxiety

It’s normal for children to miss one parent when they leave to visit another. Some may feel intense anxiety before it’s time to go. 

When a child feels anxious, he/she transfers some of that stress to their parent. The parent then similarly displays  anxious behavior, which gives the child even more anxiety. The anxiety can also begin with the parent. Once this cycle of anxiety begins, it’s very difficult to stop. 

If you sense that anxiety is causing your child’s reluctance to visit, try the following:

  • Listen, but don’t reinforce negative feelings. Let your child vent how he/she feels, but let him/her know that you want them to visit the other parent. Avoid saying things like, “I’m really sad that you have to go.”
  • Don’t force the child to tell you about his/her experiences with the other parent. Avoid asking for details or showing disapproval. 
  1. Child/Parental Manipulation

Unfortunately, parents sometimes manipulate their children into refusing visitation. They might say things like, “I really don’t want you to go!” or “If you leave, you’re going to miss (event)!” 

On the other hand, some children manipulate their parents into not taking them for a parental visit. They might do so in order to attend a school activity,sporting event,   or a friend’s party. They might also be attempting to avoid something at the other parent’s house, like doing chores or having to eat certain foods. 

What should you do if you suspect your child refuses visitation because of manipulation? You should handle this scenario delicately, the same way you would with anxiety. 

Contact a counselor or family law attorney to help you discover the true reasons behind your child’s refusal. 

  1. Physical or Emotional Abuse

This last reason is the most damaging to children. It’s also the most difficult to handle. You may want to contact law enforcement if you suspect abuse, or even askthe Department of Social Services to open an investigation. It’s possible to suspend the other parent’s rights to protect your child in an emergency. Consult your family law attorney  for detailed advice regarding your unique situation.  

Can A Child Choose Not To Visit A Parent?

It can be very difficult to coax your child into visitation when he/she refuses. However, if you are legally bound to a visitation schedule, you must abide by that schedule. If you refuse, the court can hold you in contempt. 

If the court finds that you have been withholding visitation from the other parent, consequences can include changes in custody, fines, and even jail time. 

How Can I Get My Child To Visit Me? 

If your child has been refusing to visit you, you might be wondering what you can do to get them to visit you. 

Can a child be forced to visit a parent? The short answer is yes. You can take legal action to obligate your child to visit. 

However, enforcing visitation can have unwanted consequences. It may drive a wedge between you and your child, especially if that child is a teenager. He/She may resent you for interfering with their activities.

The other parent may also become angry and resentful. They may even create more attempts to interfere with your visitation rights. 

Here are steps you can take before resorting to legal action:

  • Speak with the other parent. Work together to adjust the schedule to suit everyone’s needs. 
  • Speak with your child, especially if he/she is a teenager. Accommodate their activities in the visitation schedule. 
  • If civil discussions aren’t possible, ask a family law attorney to weigh in on your situation. 

Not Sure What To Do Next? Request A Free Case Evaluation

If your child refuses visitation with you or the other parent, you may need to take legal action. Our experienced lawyers have the skills and knowledge necessary to handle complex cases. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. 

Addison Addison

Addison Dowling Fender

At the Fender Law Firm, my wife Tracy and I are keeping alive the Fender/Dowling tradition of providing honest and effective legal services to our clients.

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