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What to do When Your Child Refuses Visitation

The emotional turmoil common with divorce typically subsides once it becomes finalized. However, divorcing couples with children may face ongoing and future turmoil relating to child custody. Whether developed by the parents or family court, parenting agreements designed to conform to Florida Statute 61.13—“Support of children; parenting and time-sharing”—must account for the best interest of the child(ren). In most cases, parents accept and abide by the time-sharing rights established by a parental agreement. But what should a parent do if a child decides that visitation isn’t in their best interest and refuses to comply with visitation terms?

With expertise helping Tallahassee-area ex-spouses navigate Florida child custody laws and parenting agreements, Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law understand how distressing it can be when a child refuses visitation. Along with causing emotional distress, though, a child’s rejection of visitation terms can lead to family court action against the parent believed responsible for the non-compliance. Because both parents generally have a vested interest in upholding parental agreement terms, let’s take a closer look at the issue of child visitation refusals in Florida law.

Reasons a Child May Refuse Visitation

A child can have any number of reasons for not wanting to comply with visitation terms laid out in a parental agreement. Their non-compliance may be a one-time event based on a minor issue or a deeper-seated desire to remain with the other parent. Whatever the underlying cause, it’s in both parents’ interests to uncover it. Some common reasons a child may refuse visitation include:

  • The visitation takes the child away from their friends, school, daily activities, or other things they may enjoy at the parent’s home (this tends to become more problematic in the teenage years).
  • The non-custodial parent has stricter rules or is not as easy to get along with as the custodial parent.
  • The child does not have a good relationship with the non-custodial parent’s new partner or others in the household.
  • The child blames the non-custodial parent for the divorce and wants to punish them.
  • Having to transition from one household to another causes anxiety.

In some cases, either parent might be directly or indirectly causing a child’s visitation non-compliance. If evidence emerges that a child may be rejecting visitation due to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, the custodial parent should take immediate action by contacting relevant authorities like police and social services and your family law attorney. On the other hand, if a non-custodial parent feels that the other parent is exerting influence on a child to get them to reject visitation, they should contact their family law lawyer. A custodial parent who tries to alienate a child from the non-custodial parent or unduly influences their feelings about visitation can be sanctioned by the family court for non-compliance with the time-sharing agreement.

If a child refuses to visit their non-custodial parent and the custodial parent fails to convince the child to comply with visitation terms, the non-custodial parent can petition the family court to force compliance. The family court has several legal options if it determines that a custodial parent has failed to comply with the time-sharing agreement. From a parent’s perspective, perhaps the most threatening court action would be a revision of the time-sharing to give the non-custodial parent more visitation. Other penalties the family court can impose for non-compliance include:

  • Hold the parent in contempt of court.
  • Force the non-complying parent to pay attorney and court costs for the other parent.
  • Mandatory attendance to a parenting class.
  • Award makeup parenting time.

What to do When Your Child is Refusing to Visit the Other Parent

If your child refuses to visit your ex-spouse, you need to figure out the root cause as soon as possible. A one-time refusal may not cause problems with your parenting agreement, but repeated non-compliance and subsequent failure to resolve the underlying issue can jeopardize it.

If the underlying reason is not connected to any abuse, it’s up to you, the parent, to convince the child that they need to comply with the visitation. Further, both parents need to foster the parent-child relationship with the other parent. Listen thoughtfully to their reasoning, but emphasize how important it is for them to share time with both parents, thus the need for visitation. To the extent possible, involve your ex-spouse and develop a joint plan to encourage the child’s visitation. Sometimes, you may want to have a family meeting or bring in a third-party, neutral professional to help overcome the child’s resistance to visitation.

With the first and any missed scheduled visitation, notify your ex-spouse about the situation and what’s causing it, and document the date, timeframes, reasons, and how the child spent their time when not visiting the non-custodial parent. If your child continues to refuse visitation, consult with your family law lawyer for additional guidance.

At What Age Can a Child Refuse to See a Parent?

Under Florida law, a child and the custodial parent are subject to the terms of the parenting agreement until the child reaches age 18. That said, teenagers can be a force to be reckoned with, a factor a family law court will consider in visitation non-compliance cases that come before them. Not that the court will necessarily allow a teenager to continue to refuse visitation, but may be more willing to modify a time-sharing agreement to accord with the teen’s best interests.

If your child refuses to visit your ex-spouse according to the terms of a Florida parenting agreement, or you’re a non-custodial parent whose child refuses visitation, seek professional advice from a family law attorney. The family law lawyers of Tallahassee’s Cowhey + Ward have extensive experience helping divorcing spouses develop and comply with parenting plans. To help you address any legal issues that may arise due to visitation refusal or other child custody matters, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.

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