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At what age does a child have the right to refuse going to the noncustodial parent?

San Francisco, CA |

My son is 13 and daughter is 9. Their dad see them once a week. Things have changed over the years. My son has new friends, new social life. Sometimes he wants to skip visiting his dad to do something he likes to do, like going out with friends. Does he have the right say no to his dad? If he insists not to go, will I be blamed for? I have both physical and legal custody of the children.

Attorney Answers 2

  1. The technically correct answer is that a minor child never gets to make the decision in contravention of what his parents, or the courts, have required. Most courts. however, will provide that the parents need to take the child's preferences and activities into consideration and to use good judgment and be flexible inletting the child have some freedom and personal responsibility as they get older. What degree of flexibility is expected, however, varies greatly with the age of the chile; a 17 year old with a driver's license who is responsible should be given a great deal more latitude and more "say" in what he/she is required or allowed to do and the court would expect the parents to be reasonable in letting the child grow up, while a 7 year old should be allowed very little latitude and the parents should exercise more comprehensive control and authority. The situation with your children falls in the middle range; the 13 yr old is starting to get to the point where extra curricular activities are of increasing importance and should be taken into consideration, but in no way is your son old enough to be given even a limited "veto" over the court ordered visitation. If the father does not want to skip or reschedule a visitaion to accomodate some activity your son wants to engage in, then the father wins. The 9 year old should accept that each of her parents knows best and makes the decisions for her whether she likes it or not, but she should not be made to feel afraid to let each of y'all know her feelings, thoughts and preferences. If your son refuses to go to a visitation after both you and his father tell him that he does not have permission or authority to skip, then the child should be punished for disobediance but you should not be held responsible for his misbehavior unless a court were to determine that you have failed to support the parental authority of his father and to make all reasonabale efforts to enforce the order of the court. It may sound harsh, but the court has to not only protect the rights of each parent and the reasonable needs of the child but also has to try to prevent the child from assuming the position where he/she manipulates and controls the visitation situation and usurps the authority of the parents; it takes a wise parent to decide where to draw the line with a 13 year old and (speaking as a parent of grown children as well as an attorney) I can attest that it is not an easy task; each parent has to act in what he or she really believes to be in the best interest of helping the child to grow into a responsible, happy, healthy and stable adult.

  2. In California, 18. The older they are, the more value their opinion has, but the courts are never obligated to simply follow the wishes of the child. In fact, there are those who feel that even asking a child to choose between one parent and the other, regardless of their age, is tantamount to child abuse. A lot of judges feel this way as well. In fact, most judges (if not all of them) recognize that it is their job to decide where the child will live, and NOT the child's. Be careful when (and how) the child's wishes are brought to the attention of the court. You may find that in bringing the child into the loop you are exposing yourself to at least chastisement from the judge and at worst something much more dramatic.

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