What Happens When a Child Refuses to Go With a Parent?

June 5, 2023

Divorce is an emotionally trying process for all involved, but it can be especially difficult for children. Separation of their parents can leave children confused or hurt, which may lead to resentment toward one or both parents. It’s not uncommon for these feelings within the children to make them resist or even refuse to follow the court-ordered parenting time schedule. 

In these situations, what happens when a child refuses to go with a parent? Depending on the child’s age, this could have an impact on the custody arrangement going forward.

What Happens When a Child Refuses to Go With a Parent?

A child parenting time schedule is a court order binding on the parents. As such, it is the parent’s responsibility to do everything within their power to follow the possession schedule outlined in the court order. A parent’s failure to do so—absent an agreement with the other parent otherwise—can subject that parent to serious consequences.

The parenting time schedule is not at the whim or discretion of the child. A parent’s role in this respect is especially important with children who are younger. A child may not want to eat his vegetables or do his homework, but that doesn’t mean that the child gets to skip eating carrots or doing math. The same goes for following the parenting time schedule.

Children should be encouraged to spend time with both parents, and each parent must make the child available to do so. Following a separation or a divorce, children are often in a difficult transition period. If a child digs their heels in, it’s up to the parent in possession to facilitate, encourage, and make that child available to go with the other parent at the appointed time. Often, with healthy encouragement from each parent, this part gets easier.

Sometimes, with older children who refuse parenting time, it may not be considered the parent’s fault if the visit didn’t happen.

It will be up to the custodial parent to prove they did not willfully or deliberately avoid letting the other parent spend time with the child. If the court decides that a parent hasn’t been doing enough to ensure parenting time, it will enforce the custody order.

Parents denied parenting time may also file a request to modify the custody order. These requests are based on claims that one parent is not living up to their responsibility to make the child reasonably available for parenting time as laid out in the original order. For a modification request to be approved, a parent must prove that circumstances have changed since the original order and that the change would be in the child’s best interests. A judge will consider the willingness of each parent to encourage a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent when deciding on a modification.

At What Age Does a Child Have a Say in Parenting Time in New Jersey?

Child choosing in divorce

During a divorce in New Jersey, a child’s age plays a significant role in how a court views their opinions. If a child is 12 or older and a parent properly requests it from the court, then the court may interview the child about custody.

The judge won’t automatically grant the wishes of the child, but the judge likely will consider the child’s views and opinions when making custody and parenting time decisions. Whether or not such an interview occurs is at the court’s discretion.

At What Age Can a Child Refuse Parenting Time in New Jersey?

While children can express their views on custody and parenting time, they are not allowed to say no to parenting time altogether. Parenting time is a parent’s right and cannot be refused by the child or the other parent. It is only once the child reaches emancipation and is no longer legally considered a child that they have the right to refuse parenting time.

What Can I Do If My Child Refuses Parenting Time?

If your child refuses parenting time with the other parent, you should attempt to discover why they’re uncooperative. You should immediately try to find out if there are any sensible reasons why the child does not want to visit their other parent. There may be serious issues related to abuse, substance abuse, or unsafe environments to consider. 

If this is not the case, it’s imperative that you be proactive and encourage parenting time. There are a few steps you should take in this situation:

Notify the Co-Parent

The first thing you should do when a child refuses parenting time is to notify the other parent as soon as possible. However, notifying the co-parent that the child is being obstinate does not automatically release you from the obligation to make the child available at the place and time designated in your court order. 

The best way to protect yourself in an enforcement proceeding is to have a thorough record of all parenting time attempts, what happened with the child, and the efforts that you made to ensure that the child went with the other parent.

Communicate With Your Child and Encourage Them to Visit

Speak with your child about why they don’t want to visit. Approach the conversation from a position of understanding while still impressing upon them the importance of maintaining a healthy relationship with the co-parent. Allow them to express any feelings or concerns they may have without judgment.

Co-Parenting

Keep Your Co-Parent Involved

Aside from situations that involve abuse, it may be beneficial for you and your ex to work together to remedy the situation. You could arrange an in-person meeting or a video call where you can all sit down and discuss the problem. Family counseling is also a viable option that helps both parents understand each other’s perspectives and what they’re experiencing.

Schedule a Consultation at Rigden Lieberman, LLC 

As you navigate the process of divorce and child custody, it may be beneficial to seek legal counsel. The professionals at Rigden Lieberman, LLC are experienced in all areas of family law and are here to help. 

Schedule a consultation today. 

By Ronald G. Lieberman

Ronald G. Lieberman is a seasoned attorney with nearly 25 years of experience in all aspects of family/matrimonial law including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, domestic violence, equitable distribution, college expenses, marital settlement agreements, high-end family and matrimonial litigation, and appellate matters before the Appellate Division.

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