My daughter is almost 15. For the past three years or so she has had a volatile relationship with her father, and has asked me on several occasions to try to alter her visitation schedule. In the past I have encouraged her to try to make the best of the situation, hoping that whatever is going on between them will blow over, and it usually does for brief intervals. But last week was the first time she has flat out refused to go to his house. We talked it over with her dad and he was okay with her skipping one visit, but my daughter is already stressed out about the next one approaching. I am in process of getting paperwork together to try to alter the schedule (she wants to stop staying the night), in the meantime, can she refuse to go over? I am at a loss of what to do.
If your 15 yr old daughter flat out refuses to go, and doing so is causing her great stress, then it's time to incorporate mental health professionals: I.e., therapy for your daughter and co-parenting counseling for you and dad.
Adults sometimes underestimate the stress a child suffers as part of their parent's divorce. A 15 yr old likely can't articulate her thoughts, or even break them down so she can understand the cause of all her stress. Often times such stress surfaces, or becomes much worse, years after a divorce, especially when a divorce occurs when a child is younger (preteen years). There may also be many other sources of stress to your 15 yr old daughter outside the home, and the visitation issue likely compounds her overall anxiety.
Furthermore, depending on the level of stress suffered by your daughter, father should not be bull-headed and force visits. He should also want to incorporate such therapy/counseling, as that is better for your daughter and their relationship, rather than simply applying the cudgel.
Finally, keep in mind that if daughter refuses to go, and father insists by threatening to call the police if you don't take her over or force her into his car, a police officer is not likely to put the daughter in the back of a car in handcuffs and take her to her visits with dad.
I'd suggest you file a visitation modification motion with the court asap. Mention in your supporting declaration the same facts you stated in your question. Include a detailed history of each occasion when daughter didn't want to go, what the trouble was, your efforts to encourage her to visit with dad, and daughters increasing stress over time with the visitation schedule. My guess is that Family Court Services may recommend the implementation of therapy/counseling, assuming you and dad don't get that started beforehand. FCS may also recommend the option that daughter be able to set her own schedule with dad, while at the same time she attends therapy. That way, the therapist can have consistent contact with daughter and help her work on this problem. Same goes for co-parenting counseling for the parents (assuming you're not already enrolled). If you are, then bring up this issue at the next co-parenting counseling session.
Again, I would stress that you incorporate a therapist into the equation asap. That will likely go a long way to improving this problem, and will give daughter an ongoing healthy outlet to deal with her emotions related to this visitation. Bottom line, both parents should cooperate as much as possible, rather than bicker or be overly focused simply on the amount of hours daughter spends with father during this emotional time for her.
If you need assistance with filing the visitation modification motion (where you request therapy for daughter and co-parenting counseling for the parents), then I'd strongly recommend that you hire a local family law lawyer for help. Good luck!
Mr. Apicella has provided an excellent and detailed answer with which I heartily agree! The only thing I would add is that you keep the communication open with your daughter to let her know you are "doing everything" to find a solution that works for her and also complies with the law. Although younger children need to feel their parents are omnipotent, at 15, it is time to realize that for some things there is a legal "process" that must be followed even when someone is 100% in the right, and that the best way for YOU to keep control of the situation is to follow that process. Good luck!
No your 15-year-old cannot decide to violate a court order
Take your matter to the judge and let the legal process work. Years ago when your daughter was asking "to try and alter her visitation schedule" that was the right kind of advise.
Mount the evidence to overturn the schedule based on whatever "volatile" evidence you know in truth to exist.