Handling a NO! When a Child Refuses Visitation
Creative Strategies Like Therapy, Open Dialogue, Virtual Visitation, and Mediation Can Help Address a Child’s Refusal of Parental Visitation, but Sometimes, You Need a Court Order in New Jersey.
Divorce is hard on everyone in the family, especially the children. There can be big feelings such as anxiety, confusion, anger, and sadness when children are required to adapt to a new life. Visitation schedules, shared holidays and vacations, and the possibility that mom or dad will begin a new relationship with a stranger who may or may not add their children to the mix can leave little heads spinning and hearts damaged. It is no wonder that sometimes children refuse to visit their noncustodial parent.
Court Authority to Determine Child Visitation Time
Parents are required to follow the parenting plan authorized by the court. The New Jersey Family Court bases its decisions on what is in the child’s best interest. Some of the qualifiers involved are that the child’s emotional and physical needs are met, the parent’s ability to communicate and cooperate with the other parent in matters regarding the child, the child’s safety, the fitness of the parent, and the stability of their home environment.
If an informal agreement cannot be reached between the parents, a motion must be filed either by the custodial parent to alter the visitation schedule or by the parent not receiving visits to have them begin again. The judge will ask the child to explain why they don’t want to visit the noncustodial parent. One of the aspects the judge looks for is parental alienation (brainwashing). They want to guarantee that the custodial parent hasn’t been manipulating the child by speaking negatively about their ex in such a manner as to provoke negative feelings by the child toward the other parent. The judge will ask the child if the custodial parent refuses to allow contact with their ex by phone, text, or in person. Finally, the judge will inquire if the child fears the noncustodial parent because they have been abusive, threatening, or violent in their presence.
Navigating Teenage Child Visitation Refusals in New Jersey
It is, and it isn’t. Legally, it isn’t a factor until the child reaches the age of adulthood, which in New Jersey is 18. A minor has no legal right to refuse. Typically, visitation problems come with adolescence. The courts recognize the difficulty in obligating teenagers to comply with the same visitation schedule they have had since they were much younger. They are open to adjusting parenting time when a parent files a motion, but the custodial parent should do everything possible to encourage visitation.
Examining The Valid and Invalid Reasons for a Child Refusing Visitation
Children are not always contrary simply to exert their autonomy. Sometimes they have valid reasons for refusing to visit a co-parent. An unstable environment with frequent arguments or violence is one of the biggest reasons. Another is not having a space of their own to sleep or have some alone time. If the parent doesn’t prepare enough nutritious food or meals, or if the child is left alone for extended periods, that is a valid reason. Outright abuse is another good reason to refuse visitation, either by the parent or someone else who has access to the child during visits, such as friends of the parent, stepparents, or other relatives. Evidence that the parent is intoxicated, drinks heavily, or uses a controlled, dangerous substance can justify a child’s refusal for visitation. When an ex disparages the other parent and encourages the child to do the same, they negatively affect that child’s relationship with the other parent.
There are invalid reasons as well. The biggest struggles with visitation refusals usually occur with teenagers. Their recalcitrant obstinance can appear insurmountable. Maybe they want to spend more time with their friends who are closer to where they live or visit places where they frequently hang out. When a co-parent develops a sentimental relationship, the child may reject that person and not want to see to avoid spending time with them or their children (if they have any). Change is hard for everyone, and it’s tough when you have no control over what is happening. A child may angrily act out when they fear more change and how it will affect them.
Creative Strategies to Deal with a Child Refusing Visitation in NJ
When confronting a child’s refusal of visitation, there are several possibilities. Consider therapy for the child, for you, and perhaps the co-parent at least some of the time. Perhaps the child has undiscovered feelings of abandonment or neglect. A therapist can facilitate discussion about those feelings and provide insight into how to progress in a healthy relationship.
Encourage open dialogue 24/7. Allow the child to express their feelings. Parents should be receptive to the child’s needs and concerns while maintaining the boundaries required to comply with the agreed-upon custody plan.
As a temporary fix, if the co-parent agrees, virtual visitations may take some of the pressure off the child in terms of physically meeting with the parent. Also, suppose the problem involves a disharmonious relationship between the child and someone the parent is dating or has married. In that case, the parent can agree to spend most of their visitation with the child alone until relationships can be built.
A parent can ask for a change in the visitation schedule. This requires filing a motion in court. You should never change a custody agreement willy-nilly. Whatever the agreement is should be followed until another can be made. Mediation is another excellent option, especially when the parents sometimes struggle to make decisions together. A mediator can extract each parent’s concerns, needs, and wants to construct a viable plan. The child may be asked to participate in the decision-making process.
Modifying a Child Custody Agreement when a Child is Refusing Visitation
If parents are on reasonably good terms and can hash out a new custody agreement, perhaps with the help of a mediator, they can petition the court using a motion or request the judge must approve. If the relationship between the parents is too acrimonious, a motion to modify the custody agreement is submitted to the court to wait for a court date on which the parents will present their respective reasons for a change in the custody agreement. The judge will decide based on the child’s best interest.
How Does the Decision in Deane v. Deane Illustrate The Conflict Between Parents When A Child Refuses Visitation?
In the case of Jesse Deane v. Barbara Deane, a conflict arose regarding the custody agreement for their 12-year-old daughter. After marrying in 1993 and divorcing subsequently in 2013, they shared five children. The settlement agreement included parenting time and custody issues. They agreed to share joint legal custody with Barbara as the parent with physical custody. Their agreement included the triplets and another child but not their 12-year-old daughter. The judge interviewed the daughter and suggested that her visitation coincides with the others in an alternating four overnights.
In September 2012, the daughter chose not to participate in any more visits to her father, citing that she wanted to be closer to her friends and join in local extracurricular activities such as sports. Barbara claimed the daughter was of an age where she could reason and have her own opinions. She felt that her wishes should be respected if the child didn’t want to visit her father. The parties went to court to settle the matter in April 2013. Jesse requested the court’s intervention. The judge met with the child and found her intelligent and well-spoken. He said she had expressed her desire to end overnights, and he wouldn’t make any changes to the agreement.
Jesse filed a motion to reconsider, arguing that 12 years of age was too young to have autonomy in regard to custody. The court disagreed, denying the motion, so Jesse appealed. He argued that the court didn’t consider all of the factors of the child’s best interest as stated in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4 (c). The Appellate Court ruled in his favor for several reasons. First, an interview by the judge with the minor should have been on camera, opposing counsel should have been given the opportunity to submit questions for the interview, and transcripts of the interview should have been provided to both parties. Secondly, the judge did not allow for oral arguments. Lastly, the judge did not use any of the statutory factors required to evaluate the child’s best interests.
Talk to Experienced Custody Lawyers if Your Child is Refusing Visitation in Passaic County NJ
If your child is refusing visitation, our family law attorneys can assemble the evidence necessary to go to court and fight for your rights to see your child. We know how difficult it is when these problems arise, and we have the experience to set up a custody agreement that will be enforced so that you can spend precious time with your child.
At the Montanari Law Group, our family law attorneys have years of experience in filing and arguing for custody modifications or demanding that an existing order be followed in Millburn, Totowa, Caldwell, West Milford, Montvale, Woodland Park, Paramus, Glen Ridge, Wayne, and throughout Essex, Bergen, and Passaic County. We understand how emotionally exhausting the process can be and will be there to support you every step of the way. We want to allow you to provide the absolute best for your children.
If you would like to learn more about strategies and approaches that we can assist with implementing to deal with your custody issue or are struggling with your ex or children regarding custody or visitation time in New Jersey, now is the time to call us at (973) 233-4396 or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation. Your children are your greatest asset. Don’t wait another minute.