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Can a child refuse to follow a visitation order?

When establishing child custody and visitation arrangements in North Carolina, the ultimate goal is to account for the best interests of all children involved in order to facilitate healthy relationships between them and each of their parents. Given that family dynamics can vary significantly from case to case, however, there are instances where children are discouraged or otherwise unwilling to follow set visitation guidelines. In such cases, it is important to understand how family law judges typically handle child custody disputes.

The recent ruling of one judge presiding over a child custody dispute prompted large-scale media coverage and public criticism after the judge held the three children involved in civil contempt for refusing to visit their father. The children were sentenced to a juvenile detention facility pending the review of their case and efforts to abide by the judge’s visitation orders.

The controversy and confusion surrounding the case mentioned above is compounded by the fact that many families are unfamiliar with whether and how family law guidelines address issues concerning children’s wishes. Fortunately, the National Paralegal College provides some insight into the topic.

In the event that one parent is awarded primary custody of a child, the court generally establishes visitation rights for the noncustodial parent. Visitation can be limited and/or prohibited under several circumstances, including that the child refuses to visit the noncustodial parent. However, the court will typically need to confirm that the child’s wishes are not based on influence from the custodial parent. The court may also consider the child’s age and his or her reasons for refusing to visit the noncustodial parent. It should also be noted that courts typically hold parents accountable for incidents of negative influence or coercion, not the children involved.