Whether you've divorced or you're legally separated, if you're a parent you need a custody order. Parents can work out their own arrangements regarding custody and visitation with a judge's approval. If parents aren't able to agree, a judge will make a visitation and custody order based on the child's best interests.
Your custody order will designate which parent has primary physical and legal custody or if both parents share custody. Additionally, your order will likely set forth a weekly schedule, with dates, times, and locations spelled out for weekday and/or weekend visitation. Holiday visits and summer visitation should also be a part of your custody order.
Once issued, a visitation order must be followed by both parents. Parents can't create their own custody modifications without a judge's approval. Your child's refusal to attend visits with your ex could land you in hot water.
Under any visitation order, a parent must make a child reasonably available for a visit at the times set forth in the order. This may include dropping a child off at a certain location or at the other parent's home. When a child is sick or otherwise unable to make a visit, the parent with present custody of the child must notify the other parent as soon as possible and work out a make-up visit.
Most custody orders don't spell out a parent's role in facilitating visitation other than making a child available for visits. It's implied that a parent will act reasonably. For example, a judge may be more understanding of a parent who can't get a teenage child to cooperate with visitation than if the parent says their toddler is refusing visits. With younger children, parents have a more active responsibility in ensuring that visits with the other parent take place.
A parent who refuses to allow the other parent to see the child or fails to follow the terms of a custody order could face contempt charges. The parent missing out on visitation can file an Order to Show Cause with the court stating that the other parent is preventing visits. This is a common situation even in cases where the child, not the custodial parent, is refusing the visits. A parent faced with an Order to Show Cause or contempt filing must prove to the court that the parent is following the court's orders, but the child won't cooperate.
Judges usually are more sympathetic in situations involving teenagers where the child can exercise some control. However, you could be found in contempt of the court order if you aren't able to make your child available for visitation. The outcome of your case will depend on whether a judge believes that your child—not you—is preventing the visits.
Perhaps the most helpful thing you can do with a child who is refusing visitation is to document the incident and immediately notify the child's other parent through a text message, email, or phone call as appropriate. If there is a protective order preventing contact in your case, you should notify your attorney that your child is refusing visitation. For example, if you're scheduled to drop off your child at your ex's, but your child won't budge, then you should contact your ex or attorney as soon as possible. Be sure to put the details of the situation in writing (whether in a text message or email) and explain what efforts you made to get your child to cooperate with the visit.
It may also be helpful for you to get your child's other parent involved and put some responsibility on them to help make the visit happen. Specifically, you could ask your child's other parent to call the child on the phone or come over to your house and try to speak with the child who is refusing visits. This helps the other parent understand the situation and places some obligation on their part to facilitate visits. You shouldn't have to force a child to attend a visit.
If you have concerns that your child is being abused or harmed by the other parent, then you should contact your attorney immediately. However, in most situations where visitation is not posing a danger to the child, you need to be able to show a judge that you are doing everything you can to make visits possible.
When a child refuses visitation, it puts a parent in a difficult position. Make sure you protect your child if there's any evidence that the child is being abused in the other parent's care. However, it's equally important to protect yourself in these types of situations by documenting facts and involving your child's other parent in situations where a child refuses visitation. If you have additional questions about visitation after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney for advice.