Do I Have to Force My Son to Spend Time with His Father If He Doesn't Want To?

Question:

Do I have to force my son to spend time with his father if he doesn’t want to?

My child’s father and I are divorced, and we share joint custody, but I’m the primary custodial parent. Sometimes, my ex misses his weekends with the kids and shows up on my weekends, asking to take the children. Do I have to let him take the kids on my weekends? Also, my 12-year-old son doesn't want to stay at his father’s house. What should I do? Do I have to force him to go?

Answer:

Assuming these weekend visits are part of a court-approved parenting agreement or custody order, you have a legal right to insist that “Dad” visit the kids during his assigned times, and only during those times. On the other hand, refusing to let Dad see the kids on your weekends (especially when he’s missed his own) may not be in your children’s best interests. Most child experts agree that children benefit from maximum possible contact with both parents (unless there is a history of parental behavior that’s harmful to the child—like abuse or neglect). So, assuming Dad is a fit parent, who maintains a healthy and loving relationship with your children, it may be best to be flexible regarding the non-scheduled weekend visits. Of course, if the visitation confusion happens all the time, the inconvenience and uncertainty he’s creating may require you to stand on your legal rights.

Regarding your son who doesn’t want to go with Dad, the legal answer is that you must follow a judge's child custody and visitation order, which may require you to do something that feels like forcing your child to visit. But, again, this may not be what’s best. Your child may have excellent reasons for not wanting to go—and the visit may be detrimental to his best interests. If so, you may need to go back to court and ask for a modification (change) to the current custodial arrangement—this request may trigger a child custody evaluation. Depending on where you live, a judge may consider your son’s custodial preference and his reasons for not wanting to visit with Dad when deciding how to modify custody. See Divorcenet’s section on Child Preference in Custody Proceedings.

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