Can my child refuse visitation?

Recently on our divorce forum a parent asked, “My husband and I went through a horrible divorce two years ago. I have a daughter who is twelve years old. She doesn’t know all the details of the divorce, but she knows it has something to do with what her father has done. He is now living with his lover with whom he had an affair. My daughter is refusing to visit him despite the child custody order. I am tired of fighting her. Does she have the legal right to refuse visitation?”

Who determines child custody?

Following a divorce, child custody can be decided by the parents, assuming they can come to an out-of-court agreement. If agreement cannot be reached, however, it’s likely that a family court judge will step in to make the custodial decision. Assuming the court makes the decision, they will review a variety of factors-all with the goal of creating a custodial arrangement which is “in the best interest of the child.”

After the court has reviewed the case, they will decide whether the custodial arrangement will include physical custody for both parents, legal custody for both parents, or sole legal and physical custody for one parent.

Assuming both parents are determined fit to be parents, courts have generally accepted the notion that children do best when they have loving care and support from both parents.

Can my daughter refuse visitation?

Now, you did not mention what type of custodial arrangement you have with your spouse or how often your daughter is expected to visit him. You also did not mention why she does not want to see him. But twelve is a difficult age. Not only are girl’s going through a great deal of emotional and physical changes, it’s a time when children naturally pull away from their parents as they attempt to start to navigate their own lives.

Common reasons she might not want to visit her father include:

  • Her father does not spend time with her when she is at his house.
  • She has conflict with the live-in girlfriend.
  • She may not want to separate from you.
  • She feels a loyalty towards you and thinks visits with her father undermine that loyalty.
  • Although it’s less likely, in some cases, there might be some type of abuse.

Steps to take to solve your issue of custody

Unfortunately, generally speaking, children cannot simply decide they do not want to see a parent. In fact, if you and your daughter fail to follow a pre-established custodial agreement you could be held in contempt of court.

With that said, however, that does not mean there are not steps you can take. First it’s important to talk to your daughter. Validate her feelings. You also need to eliminate any serious cause for concern.

Next, talk to your spouse. In some cases, the problem may be easy to resolve. Your child does not feel like her father wants her at his house? Talk to him about paying more attention to her. She hates the girlfriends? Maybe the girlfriend can go stay with a friend when your daughter visits.

If the issue is serious and your spouse won’t cooperate, it might be time for another trip to court. You could ask the judge to review the custodial agreement. In some cases, (i.e. abuse is involved) he might decide that her visiting her father is no longer in her best interest.

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