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Can a Child Refuse Visitation with a Parent?

Can a Child Refuse Visitation with a Parent?During a separation or divorce when children are involved, parents determine a custody agreement. Sometimes they figure out that arrangement together, and sometimes the court develops that arrangement for them. Either way, that custody agreement is always made in the best interests of the child.

We know that parents who do not cooperate with child custody agreements can face serious consequences. However, what if the child refuses to cooperate?

The best interests of the child

Child custody is primarily determined by considering the needs of the child. North Carolina General Statute establishes that in custody matters, a judge must consider the best interests of the child by taking into account factors like:

  • The living arrangements of each parent
  • Each parent’s physical and mental health
  • The ability of each parent to care for the child
  • The age, health, and needs of the child
  • Any parental history of domestic violence or addiction
  • Each parent’s willingness to foster a positive co-parenting relationship
  • Child’s ability to adjust to a new home, school, and community

This is not a comprehensive list, and the courts can take other relevant factors into consideration at their discretion.

What if the child has a custody preference?

A judge is not required to consider a child’s preference for with which parent they will live, and how often (or if ever) they will visit their non-custodial parent. However, depending on the child’s age and maturity level, a judge may speak with them privately (away from open court) to hear their preferences. If a judge feels the child is mature enough to have a valid and rational preference, the court may take those wishes into consideration when making a decision. Simply disagreeing with one parent’s rules, for example, would not count as a valid preference.

Can a child refuse to take part in visitation?

No. Child custody orders are a court order, and refusing to follow one would count as a violation. However, let us be honest. It is very unlikely the police are going to come to a parent’s home and force a child to go to visit their other parent. These types of consequences would likely do much more harm than good.

However, in some cases, the custodial parent could be held accountable – even in contempt – for failing to follow a court-ordered visitation schedule. The parent may be ordered to show up at a hearing and answer questions about why the child is refusing visitation. These questions might include:

  • Why doesn’t the child want to visit their other parent?
  • How old is the child?
  • What efforts has the custodial parent made to follow the agreed-upon schedule?
  • What efforts have each parent made to compel visitation? Would they have made the same efforts if the child had refused to attend school or other mandatory events?
  • Has the custodial parent disciplined the child in any way?

The courts do understand that “forcing” an older child to visit a parent is much more difficult than doing so with a toddler or younger child, but they still want to see parents making an effort and will hold them responsible when they fail to do so. Some co-parents may be required to attend mandatory child custody mediation to ensure the best interests of the child.

What can I do if my child is refusing visitation?

If your child is refusing to visit you as the non-custodial parent, it is crucial you speak to a family law attorney as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer can help determine the right course forward, and investigate what is happening with your child and your co-parent. In some cases, the other parent may be emotionally manipulating your child against you. This is a potential sign of parental alienation and could be a serious matter.

If your child does not want to visit the other parent because of issues around abuse, unclean conditions, alcohol or drug use, or other concerns about their welfare, it is also time to speak with an attorney. You may want to file for a child custody order modification or even an emergency order, depending on the circumstances. Our attorneys can provide more guidance.

When your child is refusing to cooperate with visitation – no matter which parent you are – you can take a few steps to protect yourself once you have tried everything else:

  • Notify your co-parent immediately by text, email, or phone call. If you have a protective order in place, notify your attorney ASAP instead.
  • Document the details in writing, as well as the efforts you made to get your child to cooperate with visiting their parent.
  • If possible, ask the other parent to call or text the child to address their concerns. This can help keep the other parent in the loop.

As long as there is no abuse involved, in which case you should call your attorney, taking these steps into consideration can show a judge later that you took every possible step to adhere to your child custody agreement.

The child custody attorneys at Epperson Law Group, PLLC are here for all of your family law matters. We can answer your questions and help you come to agreement on your child custody and support disputes. To schedule a consultation with one of our experienced lawyers, call 704-321-0031 or fill out our contact form today. Our legal team serves families throughout Charlotte, Concord, Boone, and Weddington.