What If My Child Doesn’t Want to Spend Time With Their Other Parent?

Divorce can be particularly hard on children. Adjusting to a new routine as parents separate from each other brings up many issues for the children effected. Hopefully once a custody and visitation schedule is established, the parents and the children can develop a new routine. Raising children is tough, and sometimes it is even more complicated when the children just don’t want to leave their (new or old) home and visit with the other parent.

There can be many reasons children don’t want to go with other parent: the children want to stay “home” with their stuff and their friends; a visit conflicts with a birthday party, school event or extracurricular activity. Hopefully the parent who is set to have visitation can still accommodate the child’s activities, but accommodation can be almost impossible if that parent has relocated to another town or city.

Or, perhaps the child or children do not “like” their parent’s new friend or partner. Things can be even more complicated if that new partner has children and now a blending situation is being forced on the children.

However, there can be an even more serious concern. Perhaps a child visiting with their parent does not feel safe. Their parent might be living in a new home, in an unfamiliar environment, causing anxiety. There might be substance use and abuse that is making the child or children feel afraid.

Both parents have an obligation to figure out what is going on. The parents need to have open and honest discussions on what is happening. If one parent has physical custody for the majority of the time, the burden really does fall on that parent to investigate. That parent just can’t take the attitude that ‘Oh well-it is my child’s call”. If that parent does not help facilitate visitation, that parent can be responsible for non-compliance to the governing separation agreement or found in contempt for failure to adhere to the governing court order.

Parents need to be reminded that they are still responsible for their children while they are still minors, under 18 and still in high school. Just like a parent can be held responsible for a child skipping school, a parent can be held in contempt for not having their child attend the visitation.

So, how do you help your child realize that he must attend visitation if there is no abuse or other extenuating circumstances? Every child is a unique person and every reason will be different. But, talk to your child. Talk, but do not interrogate. Try to ascertain what the problem is. If your child is upset about missing a social event like a classmate’s birthday party or a sporting event like a Saturday morning soccer game, share that information with your ex. Perhaps your ex can decide to include that event in their schedule. If your child shares with you that they do not like their parent’s friend or partner, sharing that information can make you uncomfortable, but you have to communicate that to your former spouse. Talk to a guidance counselor or family therapist about this. Parents need to be reminded that as children age, there will be struggles even if the parents are still together.

If your child reports any abusive behavior or unsafe activities, child protective services can be contacted, and an investigation can be performed. Parents can be ordered to install breathalyzers in their cars and drug tests can be ordered.

It is incumbent on both parents to adhere to the terms of their separation agreement or their court order. If there is an issue, the parent(s) can and should contact their attorney about a breach action or taking the other party to court for contempt. A parent can bring a lawsuit claiming parental alienation. A parent can be ordered to make a child available for visitation. Regardless of how bad a former spouse was or was not of a partner, judges believe that children benefit from having a relationship with both parents.

A detailed communication log will be helpful for the court to review. Texts and emails can help support testimony. There are many family communication apps available today. These apps can provide the texts and messages that show how the visitation issues have been discussed and handled.

Hopefully you have concluded that you can’t just tell your child or children: “it is ok, you can just skip visitation with your other parent.” Just as a child might be encountering a problem with a teacher or a friend, a good parent will want to provide helpful advice and suggestions as to how the issues can be resolved. The same is true for a situation where a child has an issue with their other parent.

Be careful not to take on the stress and anxiety of the child. Try to be reassuring. Remind them of when you will pick them up, how they can call you at a set time, and/or you will be attending the soccer game as well.

Getting visitation to work for your children can be done. But, hopefully both parents can work together to amend a schedule or make accommodations to ease a child’s concerns.

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