Many divorced parents wonder what they should do when their child doesn’t want to visit the other parent.  Should they encourage their child to go on the visitation or let him or her decide?  That depends on the child’s age–teens are old enough to make their own decisions, but younger children are not.  Before you decide on a strategy, it’s a good idea to find out why your child is resistant to going on the visit.  Ask your child why he or she doesn’t want to visit their daddy or mommy, assess whether your child seems anxious or sad, and ask yourself if you have realistic or neurotic concerns about your child’s safety.

What to Do

Unless there is a serious problem at the other home, you should encourage your child to visit the other parent. If you are seen as obstructing visitation, that can lead to litigation and the loss of parenting rights.  If after encouraging your child to go and he or she is still resistant, think about your child’s age and why he or she doesn’t want to visit the other parent.  With young children, their reasons are not usually helpful, but with older children, they can usually let you know if there is a problem at the other home.  Also, talk to your ex-spouse and try to find a solution that works for both of you.  Sometimes, your child may need professional help to adjust to living in two different homes.  At other times, a simple change in the visitation schedule will help.  

Encourage Your Children to Visit the Other Parent

As a custodial parent, it’s your responsibility to encourage young children to go on their scheduled visitations.  Children need a good-relations with both parents for healthy development.  If children see their parents working together and supporting visitations, they will be more likely to go willingly.  On the other hand, if children see their parents fighting, they will be reluctant to visit the other parent.  Explain that it’s the child’s job to see both parents and it’s not fair for daddy or mommy not to have time with them.  Don’t allow a young child to decide whether to visit–insist that’s an adult job.  

Don’t Disobey a Court Order

A custodial parent can get in serious trouble if he or she discourages a child from visiting the other parent.  If you are seen to intentionally interfere with the other parent’s rights to see his or her child, you may be held in contempt of court.  As a custodial parent, you are responsible for your children’s actions, and if they refuse to visit the other parent, that can cause trouble for you.  By the time your children are teenagers, the courts will give you some leeway.  The truth is, most teens would rather be with their friends than with either parent.  With younger children, however, it’s important to encourage them to go on visitations with the other parent.

Best Interest of the Child 

The court will consider whether it’s in the child’s best interest to continue visitations.  Because it’s public policy to encourage a relationship with both parents, the courts will generally decide that the child should continue visiting the other parent.  The best interest standard evaluates the stability of both home environments, the mental and physical health of the parents, the wishes of older children, the children’s adjustment, and religious and cultural needs.  Courts will often limit visitation if one home is chaotic, a parent displays signs of mental illness, the reluctant child is a teenager, and the parent’s disagree about religious and cultural upbringing.  

When a young child doesn’t want to visit the other parent, that can create conflict, an awkward situation, and potentially put parents in legal difficulty.  Usually, the custodial parent will assume the other parent has done something to make the child uncomfortable and the other parent will assume the custodial parent is discouraging the child from visiting.  Before things get out of hand, try to find out why your child doesn’t want to visit the other parent.  If there is a serious problem, bring it to the attention of the court.  If your child is not feeling well, explain that to the other parent, and schedule a later visit.  Listen to your children, respect their feelings, but don’t reinforce your child’s anxiety–rather, encourage your child to see their mommy or daddy.  And, talk with your ex-spouse and try to work out a solution jointly.  Working together in a collaborative way is always helpful.      

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