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How to proceed when your child refuses to visit your co-parent

One of the most difficult parts of coming out of a family law case is the adjustments that your child must make. Rather than seeing both of his parents in the same house, at the same time, your child will now have to adjust to seeing both you and your co-parent in different households at different times. Sleeping in two beds, having two-weekend routines, and traveling more via car. The list of adjustments goes on. Even if you and your co-parent are incredibly supportive and understanding about these adjustments you will still need to be on the lookout for challenges that may take more of an effort to overcome.

When you find yourself in a position where your child is hesitant to go visit your ex-spouse for the first time after a divorce you will need to be able to work with your child and be patient. It can take time for your child to be comfortable leaving home to visit their other parent. This is true even in situations where your co-parent has been a good mother or father. Seeing him or her in an unfamiliar place away from you is enough to cause a real problem in the relationship. Eventually, your child will hopefully warm up to the idea of going to spend more time with your co-parent in their home.

The subject of today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will be how to handle a situation where your child does not warm up to the idea of going to spend more time with your co-parent in their home. In some situations, a child never feels comfortable doing this and outright refuses to go and spend time with that parent. What you have on your hands at that point is a child who is potentially putting you in a position where you are going to violate court orders when your child is not going to see the other parent. On top of that, you have the emotional concerns which are relevant in a case like this. What can you do to help your child ease into post-divorce life with greater ease?

This is the sort of material that we are going to be discussing in today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. It is not an easy situation when your child will not go and see your co-parent. It’s not that you want to see your child go and bond with another person more than anything else in the world. However, you likely acknowledge that there is an inherent benefit to your child having a relationship with both parents. Even if you don’t see eye to eye with him or her. Now that you are facing the challenges associated with this problem, we would like you to see our office as an avenue towards solving the issue and restoring balance to your family.

We have a team of experienced family law attorneys who look at difficulty not as a burden but as a challenge to be met. We know that you aren’t going to back down from this issue with your family and we won’t, either. We will walk side by side with you through this problem and will do our best to help you maintain your poise while you work through issues with your child and with your co-parent. The legal consequences of this issue are secondary to your need to manage the expectations of your child and co-parent. The state of Texas encourages both parents to have an active and involved role in the life of their child. This is why there is a presumption that being named joint managing conservators is in the best interest of your child.

Not only do you have the emotional and familial issues inherent in a case like yours, but you also have the complex legal system to navigate. If worse comes to worst and your co-parent attempts to enforce whatever orders are in place for your case, how would you react? Would you know how to defend yourself, file documents and even file a counterpetition if need be? These are the sort of boots-on-the-ground, experienced steps that one of our attorneys can provide for you and your family. We don’t exist to just accept attorney’s fees and then do the bare minimum. We are proactive rather than reactive and are here for you and your family. Join us today here on our blog as we share with you some first-hand experience and perspective on how to handle a situation where your child refuses to visit your co-parent.

What is an example of the situation we have been describing so far?

Does your situation match the following, at all? One of our family law attorneys just ran into this situation with one of our clients a few weeks ago. The mother and father (we represented the father) had been divorced since their daughter was six years old. As most divorces are on children, this one was tough on the little girl. She was getting used to the back-and-forth travel, stepparents, and sleeping in two different beds for some weeks. It may not be the ideal situation for a child, but it is great to be able to have a relationship with both parents.

Fast forward to now. The daughter is ten years old and for whatever reason she refused to see her dad during most of his periods of possession. Dad came to us heartbroken and upset. He was not forcing his daughter to see him. He was of the perspective that he needed to respect her boundaries and honor what she had to say. Whether you would take the same perspective is an interesting window into the differences between how parents may approach a challenge like this. We know that this dad was not as forceful, you could say, in making sure that he saw his daughter. He related to us that he was hoping this was just a phase that would quickly pass.

Unfortunately, this was no face. The girl dug in her heels and refused to go see Dad. It could have been that she had legitimate concerns about visitation, or at least as legitimate as a little girl’s concerns could be. On the other hand, she could have acknowledged that whatever led her to initially refuse visitation was no longer relevant and that she would readily go and see her Dad but was now embarrassed. We did not get the impression that Mom was doing anything to hinder the relationship. She wasn’t exactly rolling the red carpet out from their doorstep to his car on a Friday afternoon, but she was not alienating the two from each other, either.

So here is a loving dad who wants nothing more than to develop a relationship with his daughter. He is making good progress in that goal when his child refuses to see him. Anyone reading this blog post who is a parent can probably relate to how bad this dad felt. Having your child choose something else over you must be a crushing feeling. Dad had good instincts to seek out advice in this situation. He contacted one of our attorneys for a free-of-charge consultation. He came in and met up with us face to face. What information could we provide him with?

First, we suggested that he try to seek direct communication with his daughter when possible. He knows his daughter and how best to communicate with her. Rather than alienate her we recommended this as a means for him to try and convince his daughter that he loves her and that any concerns she may have had about their relationship were unfounded. Now this sounded good to us but remember that his daughter is not an adult. She is ten years old. She lacks life experience and the emotional ability to handle changes in relationships and context. In short, she was a normal, ten-year-old girl.

Rather than immediately jump into a courtroom battle of some sort with Mom, we recommended that he talk to his ex-wife and try to get his daughter into counseling or therapy. These are conservatorship issues- being able to make psychological decisions on behalf of your child. Our client and his ex-wife agreed to counseling for the child. She needed to learn how to develop communication, self-confidence, and adjustment tools for her toolbox. These tools were not just going to develop out of thin air. Rather, she needed some help to build those tools. If dad and mom were ill-equipped to do so then an expert in the area would be their next, best bet.

It was also obvious that Dad was being kind and understanding to the point of being passive. We made the point that if he continued to allow this behavior, he would only be enabling his daughter into bad behavior. Refusing to see a parent for no good reason, a parent who loves her, was not appropriate. Court orders exist for a reason. If he wanted to have a relationship with his daughter, then he would need to stick his neck out and have an uncomfortable conversation with his co-parent and possibly with his daughter. Those conversations would look and feel different but they would both be uncomfortable.

Many parents are not good at direct communication. You may be one of those parents. If you want to learn how to better communicate with your spouse, co-parent or children then getting involved in a family law case is not the way to do it. Rather, you are better off taking these issues on directly and to try and talk through them. Resorting to the courtroom right off the bat is not a good idea unless you want to alienate your co-parent. There are alternative routes to take before you go to court. This is just one of those routes, namely, communication about difficult subjects in a firm, respectful and loving way.

Going to court as Plan B

If all else fails, you do have the courtroom as an option for settling this matter. Hopefully, it does not come to that, and you can work out a solution with your child and co-parent. Unfortunately, this is not always an option and that is why the courts exist. As the parent whose child is refusing to come and spend time with you, we assume that you have visitation rights with your child. It is a somewhat more complicated process when your child refuses to come to see you and you are the child’s primary conservator. In that case, you may be looking at multiple steps involved in this process and the possibility of switching conservatorship roles.

When your child refuses to come and spend time with you during the periods of possession outlined in your court order, we have already discussed how it is best to approach this issue with as much patience as possible. Your best resource is to talk with your co-parent to try and figure out what is going on as far as why your child is refusing to come to see you. Any parent can tell you that there could be a million reasons why a child may not be happy with you or anything else in the world for that matter. It is a fool’s errand to try and continually think about parenting your child from this perspective. However, there may be relevant issues that you are overlooking or were simply unaware of. This is why it is so important for you to have built a strong relationship with your co-parent. If you can rely on him or her in these situations to tell you the truth and help you figure out what is going on, then you have a definite advantage.

Ultimately, where the rubber hits the road when it comes to visitation periods that are not happening you need to consider filing an enforcement case against your co-parent. Your child’s refuses to come and spend time with you is not an excuse, technically, against your periods of possession going unfulfilled. Your co-parent is responsible for allowing these periods of possession to occur. She cannot continually tell you that your little one refuses to come out of the house and that the weekend visitation you were looking forward to all week is not going to happen. Here is how you could plan for an enforcement case to get filed.

First, whether it is your child who refuses to come see you or your co-parent who refuses to allow your child to go with you an enforcement case begins with you being present and ready to take possession of your child. When you get a text message at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday that your child is not wanting to come out to spend time with you that weekend you cannot just text back “OK”, stay home, and then expect to be able to use this as an instance of visitation denied. Rather, you will need to be able to make yourself available for the visitation period to begin. How do you do this when you know that your child is not going to be coming home with you that day?

What you must do is drive over to your co-parents and make yourself available. Collect some information to prove that you were at the home at 6:00 and were not able to see your child. Swing by the drive-thru at a local fast-food place, order water or soda, and then use the receipt as an indication you were in the neighborhood at the right time. The bottom line is that you cannot argue that you were denied visitation when you were not available to take your child home with you. Rather, you need to get up and go out to your co-parent’s home and be denied custody time.

Banging on your co-parent’s door, causing a scene, and doing anything like this is not a great idea. What you are going to have to happen in a situation like this is making whatever your child feels worse. Next, you may be opening yourself up to potential counterpetitions by your co-parent and even modification lawsuits if your actions are truly egregious. Look at this as an opportunity for you to improve your communication skills and patience. Position yourself well by going through the steps we outlined here today if your child is refusing to visit with you.

Every family dynamic is different. We have no way of knowing what is happening in your life unless you decide to share that. Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today for a free-of-charge consultation to move forward with whatever circumstances you are facing.

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