Divorce is an emotionally trying process for all involved, but it can be especially difficult for children. Separation of their parents can leave children confused or hurt, which may lead to resentment toward one or both parents. Even though child custody matters are settled during a divorce, it’s not uncommon for these feelings within the children to make them resist or even refuse to follow the court-ordered visitation schedule. In these situations, what happens when a child refuses to go with a parent? Depending on the child’s age, this could have an impact on the custody arrangement going forward.
What Happens When a Child Refuses to Go with a Parent?
A child possession schedule is a court order binding on the parents. As such, it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that he or she does everything within his or her power to follow the possession schedule outlined in the court order. A parent’s failure to do so –absent an agreement with the other parent otherwise – can subject that parent to serious consequences.
The possession schedule is not at the whim or discretion of the child. A parent’s role in this respect is especially important with children who are younger. A child may not want to eat his vegetables or do his homework, but that doesn’t mean that the child gets to skip eating carrots or doing math. The same goes with following the possession schedule.
Children should be encouraged to spend time with both parents, and each parent must make the child available to do so. Following a separation or a divorce, children are often in a difficult transition period. If a child digs his or her heels in, it’s up to the parent in possession to facilitate, encourage, and make that child available to go with the other parent at the appointed time. Often, with healthy encouragement from each parent, this part gets easier.
Sometimes, with older children who refuse visitation, it may not be considered the parent’s fault if the visit didn’t happen. But if a child continually refuses to follow the visitation schedule, regardless of the child’s age, then a parent may decide to get the court involved through contempt proceedings.
In contempt proceedings, the court will evaluate how often the visitation schedule was in violation and how much effort the custodial parent put into making the visit possible. It will be up to the custodial parent to prove that they did not willfully or deliberately avoid letting the other parent spend time with the child. If the court decides that a parent hasn’t been doing enough to ensure visitation, it will enforce the custody order. Should the parent still fail to follow the order, they may face fines or even jail time.
Parents denied visitation may also file a request to modify the custody order. These requests are based on claims that one parent is not living up to their responsibility to make the child reasonably available for visitation as laid out in the original order. For a modification request to be approved, a parent must prove that circumstances have changed since the original order and that the change would be in the child’s best interests. A judge will consider the willingness of each parent to encourage a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent when deciding on a modification.
At What Age Does a Child Have a Say in Visitation in Texas?
During a divorce in Texas, a child’s age plays a significant role in how a court views their opinions. If a child is age 12 or older and a parent properly requests it from the court, then the court is required to interview the child about primary conservatorship. The judge won’t automatically grant the wishes of the child, but the judge will consider the child’s views and opinions when making custody and visitation decisions.
A court interview is not mandatory if a child is under 12. However, parents may still request that a judge speak to the child in their chambers about conservatorship, visitation, and other matters that may impact a parent-child relationship. Whether or not such an interview occurs is at the court’s discretion.
At What Age Can a Child Refuse Visitation in Texas?
While children can express their views on custody and visitation at age 12, they are not allowed to say no to visitation altogether. Visitation is a parent’s right and cannot be refused by the child or the other parent. It is only once the child reaches age 18 and is no longer legally considered a child that they have the right to refuse visitation.
What Can I Do If My Child Refuses Visitation?
If your child refuses visitation with the other parent, you should attempt to discover why they’re uncooperative. You should immediately try to find out if there are any sensible reasons why the child does not want to visit their other parent. There may be serious issues related to abuse, substance abuse, or unsafe environments to consider. However, if this is not the case, it’s imperative that you be proactive and encourage visitation. There are a few steps you should take in this situation.
Notify the Co-Parent
The first thing you should do when a child refuses visitation is to notify the other parent as soon as possible. Let them know what’s happening, and explain the situation as clearly as possible. Some custody orders include preferred communication methods, and you should notify them via that method when possible. However, if a specific communication method isn’t required, you should contact the other parent via text or email. These methods will allow you to have a written record of what transpired.
However, notifying the co-parent that the child is being obstinate does not automatically release you from the obligation to make the child available at the place and time designated in your court order. The best way to protect yourself in a contempt proceeding is to have a thorough record of all visitation attempts, what happened with the child, and the efforts that you made to ensure that the child went with the other parent.
Communicate With Your Child, and Encourage Them to Visit
Speak with your child about why they don’t want to visit. Approach the conversation from a position of understanding while still impressing upon them the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship with the co-parent. Allow them to express any feelings or concerns they may have without judgment.
Keep Your Co-Parent Involved
Aside from situations that involve abuse, it may be beneficial for you and your ex to work together to remedy the situation. You could arrange an in-person meeting or a video call where you can all sit down and discuss the problem. Family counseling is also a viable option that helps both parents understand each other’s perspectives and what they’re going through.
Get Help From a Child Custody Expert at Goranson Bain Ausley
If you’re still concerned about what happens when a child refuses to go with a parent, contact the child custody attorneys at Goranson Bain Ausley. Our lawyers possess a wealth of experience in these matters and will always advocate for the best interests of your child. Call our offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Granbury, or Plano to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help you.
Rachel recognizes that divorce and other family law issues can have a lasting impact and helps clients create the best-possible “new normal” for their lives moving forward. With significant experience in all aspects of family law, Rachel is equipped to advocate for her client’s best interests through negotiation, mediation, or litigation.
If you have any questions about child custody or visitation, please contact Dallas Family Lawyer Rachel Rizzieri Feist at Goranson Bain Ausley.
Our attorneys are experienced in all aspects of family law and will guide you through each step of the process, ensuring you have the information you need to make wise decisions and prepare for the future.