You spent a long time in mediation negotiating and getting your custody order worked out so that both you and your ex were satisfied with it.
Or maybe you fought a long custody battle that ended in a trial where the judge had to make the decision for the two of you.
In either scenario, there is often some point that a child may refuse to see the other parent.
This is often where either the parent who is not seeing the child or the parent who has the child shows up in my office to ask questions:
- What can they do?
- Does the child have to be forced to see the parent?
- What are the legal options or consequences?
- At what age can the child choose when they want to visit a parent?
In today’s blog, we will discuss these questions in greater detail and some possible solutions.
The Texas Family Code
The way a Texas Family Law judge views visitation orders is that although a child may not want to visit the other parent, visitation is not optional for the child. The judge ordered the visitation and they expect their orders to be followed.
If you are the custodial parent or managing conservator, you are held responsible for complying with the visitation order. The judge is not going to let you off the hook just because your child does not want to follow the orders.
Passive Contempt—What if My Child Refuses to Go?
I have previously discussed passive contempt in another blog article, but in summary, a parent will claim to have fulfilled their obligation by:
- Having the child ready to go
- The child walks out on the porch
- Then the child refuses to go with the parent attempting to exercise their possession.
This situation comes up frequently and appellate courts have taken differing views as to whether the parent with primary possession can be held in contempt when the child refuses to go.
Ex Parte Morgan, 886 S.W.2d 829 (Tex.App.-Amarillo 1994, orig. proceeding)
The Amarillo court indicates that there is no such thing as passive contempt. If a parent has the children ready to go and they refuse to go, the custodial parent could not be held in contempt.
Ex Parte Rosser, 899 S.W.2d 382 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1995, orig. proceeding)
However, the Houston court of appeals came down on the issue differently. In “Ex Parte Rosser,” the custodial parent had the obligation to:
- Effectively drag the kid to the visiting parent's car, kicking and screaming, or
- Go directly to jail, unless that parent can affirmatively show "an involuntary ability to compel the visitation."
What Can You Do if Your Child Will Not Visit the Other Parent?
If a child refuses to visit the other parent, this can be problematic for both parents. This refusal disrupts the visitation order that both parents have adjusted and worked their lives around.
Possessory Conservator’s Point of View
Understandably, the noncustodial parent or possessory conservator may be hurt or upset. They may suspect that the other parent of manipulating their child or purposely causing parental alienation.
Managing Conservator’s Point of View
The managing conservator may also have their own suspicions of what is going on in the other house that is causing their child distress so that they do not want to see their other parent?
Remember That You’re the Adult
Do you let your child skip school whenever they want? Are they allowed to stay up all night playing games on their phone? Can they eat junk food and drink soda whenever they like? Does your child only do their homework when they want to?
Of course not, because as a parent, you sometimes have to make your children do things that they don’t necessarily want to do. This is how children learn responsibility and that what they want can’t always come first.
Divorced parents often feel guilty, which can make them fall into the trap of giving in too easily to their children. While it’s important to listen to children and their opinions, you need to remember your child is not in charge. You are. Your child needs to know that both parents are an important part of his or her life. They don’t get to choose when and if visitation happens.
Tell your child that part of having divorced parents is spending time with each one of them. This means that it’s not fair to your ex or your child—although they may not see it that way—if you don’t make him or her go along with the visitation order.
The Buck Stops Here—Your Behavior
Is your behavior making your child feel like they have to choose sides? If your child is refusing to go to the other parent, this may be a sign that child is reacting to something you are doing.
They may be trying to avoid upsetting you or being made to feel guilty for spending time with their other parent.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Some questions you need to ask yourself include:
- Are you bad-mouthing the other parent or allowing other people to do so in front of your children or where they can hear you?
- Do you get upset or agitated when your children get ready to go for their visitation?
- Do you interrogate your children about your ex after they get home from their visitation?
- Do you do things to make them feel guilty for seeing the other parent?
- Do you badmouth your child’s step-siblings or step-parent?
These types of behaviors can place your child in an incredibly awkward position, and it is wrong for you to put them there. You may also be harming your child by:
- Saying nasty things about your ex or
- Using your child as a messenger to your ex
You may still have strong emotions regarding your ex, but this person is your child’s other parent and you do not want to forget your child is partly you and partly your ex.
If they hear you speaking badly about their other parent, they may wonder how you feel about them as well.
You may need to vent about your ex but you do not need to do it in front of your child. You have a lot of other options for venting:
- With a friend
- A divorce support group
- A counselor
Let your child be a child; you do not need to trouble them with any anger or resentment you have.
Some questions to ask yourself to make sure you are acting in the best interests of your child include:
- Am I encouraging my children to visit their other parent?
- Do I let my children know I am fine when they are away even if I miss them?
- Do I help my children pack for their visitation?
- Do I interrogate the children when they come back from visitation?
- Am I communicating with the other parent directly or am I using my child to pass along the information?
Why Does Your Child Not Want to See Their Other Parent?
A good place to begin is to speak with your child and find out why they no longer wish to visit their other parent.
Safety and Welfare of Your Child
If there is a safety issue, then you will want to speak with a family law attorney about modifying your current child custody order.
Issues Other than Safety and Welfare
It is not uncommon for a child to become irritated or unhappy with a parent in general. This can be unpleasant but is not unusual and generally, everyone involved gets over it.
If this happens and your child is complaining about seeing your ex, encourage your child to discuss their complaints with their parent. This is a problem between your child and the other parent. It will be healthier for everyone involved if they are able to work out any problems together.
Some ways they can work on resolving their problems include:
- Handwritten letter
It is best to approach the problem without assuming either the other parent or the child is at fault. Try and remain neutral and work your child and the other parent to resolve the matter.
Let your child know that both parents love them and that is why both you and the other parent want to spend time with them.
What to Do When Your Child Does Not Want to Spend Time with You
Rejection hurts no matter how old you are. A good place to begin if you are the parent the child does not want to spend time with is to do a self-assessment of your actions.
Talk to Your Child
Discuss with your child why they do not want to see you and consider how you are acting when your child is with you.
Questions to Ask Yourself if You are the Parent the Child Doesn’t Want to See
Some questions you need to ask yourself include:
- Do you cancel or show up late to visits with your child?
- Do you insist that your new significant other has to be included in all the time you spend with your child? (Do you ever have just one-on-one time?)
- Do you plan for when your child visits you?
- Do you interrogate your child about your ex when they are with you or over the phone?
- Do you remember your child’s birthday or special occasions?
- Do you ignore your child when they are with you?
- Do you allow your child to talk with the other parent when they are with you?
- Do you show up or get involved in your child’s activities sports, plays, etc.
Younger Children vs. Teens
More than likely you are aware that younger children and teenagers are different.
Your teenager is going to handle circumstances in a different way than when they were younger. This is often done by expressing their anger or showing resentment in ways that are new or different than what you are accustomed to.
When Can My Child Decide for Themselves Not to See a Parent?
One of the most common child custody myths in Texas is that once children reach a certain age, they have the legal right not to see a parent.
I am always fascinated to see what age the parents think it is when they come to see me. The most common age I hear is twelve. However, I have heard 10, 15, and 17 as well.
This idea that a child can choose is misinformation. I like to tell the parent I am meeting with “there is a magic age when your child can choose, and that age is 18.”
This usually gets a chuckle. In the majority of states, including Texas, children under the age of 18 cannot legally make the decision themselves whether or not to see their parent.
I tell the parent I am meeting with the only people who get to make decisions regarding the child’s visitation is the parents together or a Judge.
If a parent wants to change up the visitation from the custody order and the other parent is not in agreement, the only way to do so will be to file for a modification and present the case to the judge.
Modifying custody orders is not unusual as children get older. A custody order that worked for your three-year-old probably will not work for your fifteen-year-old.
Most likely, the origin of your child being able to decide comes from Texas Family Code 153.009. This statute allows the court to conduct precisely what the section heading says, “interview of child in chambers.”
The statute explains the purpose of the interview as being “to determine the child’s wishes.” However, the judge retains discretion in:
- How the child is interviewed and
- What is in the best interests of the child
In other words, the judge can consider the child’s preference just like any other piece of evidence and can ultimately do something that is completely different from what the child wants.
The Law Cannot Change the Heart
Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as saying “…the law cannot change the heart.” It is easy for a judge to say that your children have to visit with their parents. It is another thing to try and force your 16-year-old who is refusing to visit their parent.
You can try and punish them by:
- Grounding them
- Taking away their cell phone or
- Some other restriction
These punishments will not repair the relationship and probably will only increase the resentment. At a certain age, most parents are no longer cool, and the children would rather hang out with their friends.
The idea of spending the weekend with a parent instead of their friends can seem incredibly boring to a child especially if nothing is planned when they get there.
Some ideas that can help include:
A good approach is to be flexible when possible. An example of this could include letting your child attend the sleepover with her friend even if it’s on your weekend.
Maybe you can swap a weekend with the other parent.
Alternatively, maybe you have your child come over and spend some time with you, and then you can take them to their friends afterward.
Try and find things the two of you can do and enjoy together. Maybe your teenager will not want to do anything except talk or text on the phone with friends. Within reason maybe you let them do so for a few hours.
Work on keeping lines of communication open. You may feel hurt; rejection is painful. Let your teenager know you love them and be patient.
Your teenager may act indifferent, but they notice what you do.
Think of Ways to Make Going Back and Forth Between Homes Easier
Going back and forth between parents’ homes can be hard on your child. Try and think of ways to make it easier for your child.
Do not think that your job is over as the managing conservator simply by handing your child over to the other parent. It is important for your child that you try and co-parent.
One way this can be done is by encouraging a good relationship with the other parent.
If your child is showing an unwillingness to go with the other parent, you need to encourage your child to visit with the other parent.
Some ways you can help in this regard include:
- You can show your child that you support this through your body language, tone of voice, and words.
- Let your child know that they are going have a good time with their other parent.
- Help your child pack for their time with the other parent.
- Reassure them you will be okay while they are gone even though you will miss them.
- Try and talk a little bit with the other parent.
- Do not interrogate your children when they come back from a visit but let them know its okay to share if they want.
If you do these things consistently, your behavior will have a positive effect on your children.
If you are the parent who is having problems with their child not wanting visit with them, you are probably experiencing all sorts of emotions.
However, rather than react you need to first:
- Figure out why.
- What is going on?
- Make sure your child is comfortable in your home.
Some things to think about include:
- Do they have their own room?
- Do they have their own things?
If this is not possible because of finances, then you can at least make sure your child has:
- A closet
- Wardrobe or dresser for their things
- Snacks or foods that they like when at your home
- Their artwork or pictures displayed
If you have children from a new relationship that live with you, make sure they know it is not okay to borrow or take from this room or closet without permission or the child present.
Make sure you pay attention to their important dates such as:
- School events
Know what is going on in their life by:
- Get on email or text lists at school
- Get on email or text lists for their activities
- Spend one-on-one time with them
Think of things you can do with your child other than sit around the home and watch television. Some active things you can do can include:
- Bike riding
- Go to a park
- Cook a meal
- Go to the library
Communication and Compromise
An important part of being able to co-parent is communication. Another part is being open to compromise. If you approach a situation thinking you have to win all the time, it is going to send a bad message to the other parent.
As a parent who has gone through a broken relationship, you are probably aware that communication can make or break a relationship.
Let the other parent know as soon as visitation issues come up. You may not want to speak with the other parent, but that is exactly what you need to do.
Avoid sending any negative signals to the other parent or your child. Speak with both your child and the other parent about why they are reluctant to visit.
Be willing to explore reasonable deviations from the parenting schedule. Try and work with both your child and other parent.
- Invite your child to grab dinner
- Come over after school
- See them at events or activities they are in
If the parenting plan needs to be modified, see if you can talk with other parents and get them involved. If you can avoid an adversarial situation, this will help avoid hurt and resentment.
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Other Articles you may be interested in:
- Can a child choose who he or she wants to live with in Texas?
- When Can a Minor Child Weigh in on Custody Decisions in Texas?
- Does my 18 year old child still have to go with their other parent on the weekend for court ordered visitation in Texas?
- What can happen when you ask the Judge to talk to your teenager during a divorce
- 15 Myths About Divorce in Texas
- Mom Versus Dad Who Gets the rights? - Custodial Rights Vs. Non-Custodial Rights in Texas
- When is, Cheating Considered Adultery in a Texas Divorce?
- Texas Divorce Morality Clause: Be Careful What You Ask For
- 6 Tips - On How to prepare for a Texas Divorce
- How am I going to Pay for My Texas Divorce?
- How Much Will My Texas Divorce Cost?
Law Office of Bryan Fagan | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
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