Do I have to force my child to visit with the other parent?
A very common question in Texas divorces (http://chrislawyerblog.com/divorce/) or other family law matters is whether a child has to visit with the other parent if they do not wish to. I suppose this could be referred to as child visitation rights although we are really discussing the rights of a parent to visit.
The courts are split on this issue and there is no definitive answer to the question. Some courts in Texas, specifically in Dallas (http://www.dallascourts.com/forms/lstCourts.asp?division=fam) and Collin County (http://www.co.collin.tx.us/district_courts/) where I practice, require that the child be forced to go on visitations with the other parent, while other courts will not press the issue. In Collin County (http://www.collincountytx.gov/district_courts/index.jsp) for example, if the child is 15 years of age or older, some courts will place special visitation provisions in the order allowing the child to work out their own visitation with the parent. An example can be found in the standard possession order here (http://www.collincountytx.gov/district_courts/forms/spo2003.pdf).
Janet Langjahr (http://www.fla-divorcelaw.com/#abt), in her Florida Divorce Law Blog (http://www.fladivorcelawblog.com/) discusses a case where a twelve year old girl was arrested for aggressively resisting her father's forceful exercise of visitation. You can read more about the case in her post here (http://www.fladivorcelawblog.com/2010/06/05/twelve-year-old-florida-girl-arrested-for-aggressively-resisting-her-fathers-forcible-exercise-of-timesharing/).
So what do you do if the child refuses to visit? Should you force them to visit? What if the child reacts negatively?
Well, the good news is that you only have two choices. One, make them go or two, don't.
If you make them go, you stand the chance that the child could be upset with you, act our, or threaten other types of retribution. As a parent, your job is to deal with these types of issues and be the best parent you can be. If you don't make them go, and there is a court order for visitation, then you stand the chance that the court will hold you in contempt of court for failure to provide the child for visitation. This could land you in jail.
In a article by Jason C. Brown on the Minnesota Divorce and Family Law Blog (http://www.mnfamilylawblog.com/) he cites a book by Brette McWhorter Sember (http://www.womansdivorce.com/child-visitation-problems.html) entitled "How to Parent with Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child's Best Interest" (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1572484799?tag=womansdivorcecom&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=1572484799&adid=1YBRDJKETK051GA03WF0&). She makes some good points:
- Children are not in charge of visitation. Parents are. Children's opinions are important, but not decisive. Children are not old enough or mature enough to hold the authority to decide when and if visitation happens. If you give your child that authority you will confuse and overwhelm him. Your child wants and needs to know that both parents are an unconditional part of his or her life. Now that being said, there can be real problems with visitation that lead to a child's refusal to go. Talk to your child and find out why he doesn't want to go. Often it's just a general annoyance with the other parent or a vague sense of dissatisfaction. This isn't good news, but it isn't bad news either. You have to remember that it will pass
- If your child has solid complaints about visitation, suggest that she discuss them with the other parent. If your child isn't able to verbalize this, then it's okay for you to convey the message, but you must remember that children's perceptions of things may be skewed. A complaint of "Dad is always working and never spends any time with me" might in reality turn out to be a case of where Dad had one project he had to finish up last Sunday night and so could not play video games. If there is a real complaint about visitation, it's important to remember that this problem exists between the child and the parent. You really should not get involved unless it is a dangerous situation. Part of having a real parent-child relationship is working out problems together.
- If your child refuses to go on a scheduled visitation, and there is no real reason for the refusal, you and the other parent must present a united front. Insist together that there is no other option. If the custodial parent gives in, he or she becomes an accomplice, making the other parent angry and proving to the child that he or she does not really respect the other parent's role. If the non-custodial parent gives in (the parent exercising the visitation), this is a sign to the child that he or she doesn't really care and is seen by the custodial parent as yet another failure. The best plan is to work together to get your child to go.
My advise? If you absolutely cannot get the child to go on visitation, or you feel there is a good reason not to allow the visitation, file a motion with the court to modify the visitation order. At least then you may keep yourself out of jail for denying visitation, and perhaps the child can be heard on their preferences as I discussed in an earlier post (http://chrislawyerblog.com/2010/06/when-can-a-child-choose-which-parent-to-live-with-in-texas/).
Always err on the side of following the court's order.