Child custody is often one of the most complicated, messy, and emotionally charged parts of a divorce. And those issues don’t necessarily end once a child custody agreement is reached. Oftentimes, arguments and problems can arise even years after a divorce. One of the issues that some couples face with shared custody is when a child refuses to visit the other parent. If your child is digging in their heels and insisting they don’t want to visit your ex, you may be inclined to give them their way. After all, isn’t a child custody arrangement supposed to be about what’s best for the child? But before you allow your child to skip their next visit, read this blog.
Child Custody Is Legally Binding
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that your child custody agreement is not just a casual agreement between you and your ex; it is a legally binding contract that both of you are required to uphold. This means that, if you fail to drop off your child to your ex on the day designated for them to have custody of the child, you could find yourself back in court facing legal charges.
So, it’s important that you not take your child custody agreement casually. A visit with your ex is not a playdate that you can cancel if your child doesn’t feel up for it that day, so please do not treat it as such.
Should a Child Be Forced to Go?
Of course, a matter like this goes far beyond what you’re legally required to do. Even if you fully understand the legal implications of failing to uphold the terms of a child custody agreement, forcing your child to go with their other parent when they don’t want to will likely feel wrong to you as a parent. So, while the answer to the above question may be legally “yes,” ethically, you may feel that the right answer is “no.”
It’s a complicated situation that doesn’t necessarily have the same answer for every family. One factor to keep in mind is your child’s age. If your four-year-old is refusing to visit their other parent, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sway a judge to understand why you didn’t bring your child to your ex for their scheduled visit. However, if your fifteen-year-old is adamantly refusing to visit your ex, you will likely have less control over this situation and may be able to explain it to a judge if you’re summoned to court.
Doing Your Due Diligence
Under most child custody agreements, parents are expected to make the child “reasonably available” for visits on the scheduled dates at the given times. And while you should do everything that you can to bring your child to their other parent, or to get them ready to be picked up, it’s not necessarily your job to drag a kicking, screaming child to the car.
For example, let’s say you have a fifteen-year-old daughter who is supposed to be picked up by your ex on Saturday. But she’s locked herself in her room and is refusing to come out. Your ex arrives at the appointed time, and she still hasn’t come out. How far does your responsibility extend when it comes to upholding the child custody order?
Obviously, it’s not your job to break down her door and drag her to your ex’s vehicle, and for cases like these, a judge (and hopefully your ex) will understand that you’ve done all you can to make your daughter “reasonably available” for the scheduled visit. Circumstances were simply beyond your control.
If your child has already begun saying that they do not want to visit their other parent, it’s important that you communicate the issues you’re having with your ex. In the example given above, it would be far better to call your ex and inform them that your daughter has locked herself in her room and doesn’t want to have the scheduled visit than it would be for them to be blindsided by the situation when they arrive. Swift and accurate communication with your ex will likely give you a better outcome in court than simply failing to bring your child to a scheduled visit.
Understanding Why They’re Refusing
All legal matters aside, the most important thing in these situations is to understand precisely why your child is refusing to visit your ex. Is there something going on at your ex’s house that you don’t know about? Has something happened that is making your child afraid to go back? It’s important to determine if your child’s refusal is based on something much more serious than mere stubbornness or a passing tantrum.
Depending on the reason for their refusal, you may be able to work things out with your ex to rectify whatever is making the child uncomfortable while visiting. Or, if the situation is serious (such as abuse), you can immediately take the matter to court.
Dealing with a situation like this isn’t easy, and unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to it. However, if you find yourself needing to revise an existing child custody agreement, feel free to reach out to us for a consultation.