do i have to force my child to visit?

A very common question in Texas divorces or other family law matters is whether a child has to visit with the other parent if they do not wish to.  I suppose this could be referred to as child visitation rights although we are really discussing the rights of a parent to visit.

The courts are split on this issue and there is no definitive answer to the question.  Some courts in Texas, specifically in Dallas and Collin County where I practice, require that the child be forced to go on visitations with the other parent, while other courts will not press the issue.  In Collin County for example, if the child is 15 years of age or older, some courts will place special visitation provisions in the order allowing the child to work out their own visitation with the parent.  An example can be found in the standard possession order here.

Janet Langjahr, in her Florida Divorce Law Blog discusses a case where a twelve year old girl was arrested for aggressively resisting her father’s forceful exercise of visitation.  You can read more about the case in her post here.

So what do you do if the child refuses to visit?  Should you force them to visit?  What if the child reacts negatively?

Well, the good news is that you only have two choices.  One, make them go or two, don’t.

If you make them go, you stand the chance that the child could be upset with you, act our, or threaten other types of retribution.  As a parent, your job is to deal with these types of issues and be the best parent you can be.  If you don’t make them go, and there is a court order for visitation, then you stand the chance that the court will hold you in contempt of court for failure to provide the child for visitation.  This could land you in jail.

In a article by Jason C. Brown on the Minnesota Divorce and Family Law Blog he cites a book by Brette McWhorter Sember entitled “How to Parent with Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest”.   She makes some good points:

  • Children are not in charge of visitation. Parents are. Children’s opinions are important, but not decisive. Children are not old enough or mature enough to hold the authority to decide when and if visitation happens. If you give your child that authority you will confuse and overwhelm him. Your child wants and needs to know that both parents are an unconditional part of his or her life. Now that being said, there can be real problems with visitation that lead to a child’s refusal to go. Talk to your child and find out why he doesn’t want to go. Often it’s just a general annoyance with the other parent or a vague sense of dissatisfaction. This isn’t good news, but it isn’t bad news either. You have to remember that it will pass
  • If your child has solid complaints about visitation, suggest that she discuss them with the other parent. If your child isn’t able to verbalize this, then it’s okay for you to convey the message, but you must remember that children’s perceptions of things may be skewed. A complaint of “Dad is always working and never spends any time with me” might in reality turn out to be a case of where Dad had one project he had to finish up last Sunday night and so could not play video games. If there is a real complaint about visitation, it’s important to remember that this problem exists between the child and the parent. You really should not get involved unless it is a dangerous situation. Part of having a real parent-child relationship is working out problems together.
  • If your child refuses to go on a scheduled visitation, and there is no real reason for the refusal, you and the other parent must present a united front. Insist together that there is no other option. If the custodial parent gives in, he or she becomes an accomplice, making the other parent angry and proving to the child that he or she does not really respect the other parent’s role. If the non-custodial parent gives in (the parent exercising the visitation), this is a sign to the child that he or she doesn’t really care and is seen by the custodial parent as yet another failure. The best plan is to work together to get your child to go.

My advise?  If you absolutely cannot get the child to go on visitation, or you feel there is a good reason not to allow the visitation, file a motion with the court to modify the visitation order.  At least then you may keep yourself out of jail for denying visitation, and perhaps the child can be heard on their preferences as I discussed in an earlier post.

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63 Responses to do i have to force my child to visit?

  1. Chris Schmiedeke March 2, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    Yes, I would think he could attend games as any contact would be supervised (by you I assume as you would have taken them there). He would just not be able to take them with him alone. Ask another attorney and get a second opinion, they may feel differently.

  2. Chris Schmiedeke March 2, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    You really should talk to an attorney in your area about this. The answer is too long for a blog post. My personal feeling is that you need to figure out a way to reintegrate him in her life if he is interested in doing that. That may mean making some travel concessions to go to him or his house. Good luck.

  3. Chris Schmiedeke March 2, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Pay your child support and file an enforcement to get visitation rights. Contact an attorney in the area where the child lives and get something on file. Get your child support caught up asap. You will go to jail for failure to pay child support, regardless of the reason. I don’t think you want that.

  4. Chris Schmiedeke March 2, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    File an enforcement of the visitation order.

  5. JT March 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    If one parent was granted supervised visitation and never set it up due to geographical distance, then went bck to court to hv visits moved bck to the same town and was successful, then decided he was going to move and not see his child at all- can I go after him to force him to follow thru w his sup visits that he has taken me to court over the past 2 yrs?

  6. Monica March 29, 2012 at 7:09 am #

    My sons are 17 and 15. They are both excellent students, active in school. In the past, they have missed playing in a lot of school football and basketball games due to visitation. They are now wanting to work this summer. My oldest at a local business in town, my youngest, hauling hay for my father. I believe working will be great experience for both of them. They are only wanting to go for part of their summer visitation with their father. My sons are teenagers are starting to become more independent. This coming year my elsest son will be a senior and won’t want to miss any of his Varsity sports games.

    I was told that that I must make the kids availbe to their father for visitaiton, but if they want to miss some of their visitation, they must tell him…not me. I have told them that if nothing else is going on, they really should go and visit thier father.

    Their father is saying that since he is forced to pay child support I must surrender them to him during all court ordered visitation. He doesn’t attend any of their games or school functions and has elected to see the kids only one weekend a month, forgoing his 1,3 and 5 weekend visits. We live just over 100 miles apart.

    Are there any general guidelines for older teens and visitation?

  7. Chris Schmiedeke April 2, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    There are some general rules for kids that age, but if those are not in your order then it is irrelevant. You must follow your order or have it modified to reflect these more general terms.

    I would suggest contacting an attorney and getting on top of this early if you want to prepared for next year.

  8. Missy June 12, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    My ex doesn’t see my daughter for months.. Then out of the blue calls 1 time or shows up without notice when it isn’t even his weekends. Over the past 8 years he has never enforced his summer visitation or any visitation for that matter. Now he wants to, she’s 8 years old right now, she planned summer activities and I allowed it because he never comes through to pick net up or see her or even communicate for that matter. She doesn’t want to go and told him that herself. He already threatened her by yelling at her and telling her I don’t care what you want I am going to pick you up and take you. (we live over 100 miles). Then threatened me that he was going to call te cops when i told him I wouldn’t allow it unless he controlled his temper. She is beyond scared and really does not want to go. Is there anything I can do?

  9. Really Frustrated November 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    This is just a summary of frustrations. My son is 12, doesn’t want to see me, has told me he doesn’t want me to be his father, and one point last year i didn’t see him for 8 mos. Not because i didn’t want to, but because he didn’t want to come. Harsh remarks were, i hate you, i don’t like it over there. i don’t like my step brothers (5/6), my step mom (been in the picture since he was 8 mos), or grandma(moved in after my dad passed). When i met his mother, she had 1 child, my son was #2, we didn’t marry, went on to have #3, #4, both with different men.Making that 4 kids and 4 different fathers. Had #’s 5 and 6, with current husband. Who is now wanting a divorce. Wants to modify my visitation, child support. Been told he can decided @ 12 yrs who he wants to live with. I don’t just want to be a financial institution for him(his mother). What do i do? His mom is a high school counselor.

  10. Kim December 1, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    The attorney generals office served myex because he owes me over $13thousand in back child support so he hired an attorney and went for cusody our son and he is 13 and he said he wanted to live with his dad which not only devasted me but suprised me becuse weve always been so close I couldnt afford a lawyer so I agreed a 6 month temp order to make sure this was.what our son really wanted but since then my ex has denied me my visitations and my thanksgiving week with him he has my son text me two hours afyer the visots are suppose to start to tell me he doesnt want to come we go back to court next month can he get in trouble with the judge for violating the temp orders and will this help me get my son back? Im trying to get money to hire a lawyer, his lawyer wants me to pay $228 a month becauae I dont work but they will subtract each month from what he owes me, its killing me not being able to see my son, I feel like hes brainwashing him.against me because like I said my son and I have always been so close, just this summer he told me he wants to go to.his dad for his summer visit he just doesnt luke having to go to his dads for 30 days that was to long to be away from home, can you please give me some advice? Thank you

  11. Step-up Mom December 21, 2012 at 5:51 am #

    My husband and I met just over 1 year ago. We were both married before and have children from our first marriages. My husband as 1 son, now 14. When I first started to get the know my step son and help in his care taking, the child came to me one day and asked several somewhat disturbing questions about the visits with his mother. Without knowing any past details, I advised my stepson that, she is your mom and you should really just try to talk it out with her and hopefully you could fix your problems with her. Now keep in mind, I knew very little of the relationship otherthen my husband and ex-wife divorced over 7 years ago and there was no set custody or visitation with the mother. My step son resided with my husband since the divorce and his mother would just call and say she had time to visit and would come and pick him up for approx: an hour or two. She would never see him on the weekends and on numerous occasions call last minutes and cancel. My husband and step son seemed very happy with this because she would not call or try to visit for weeks after a short visit. After the mother found that my husband and I were in a serious relationship and got engaged, she started calling and texting my husband for the silliest things, not having anything to do with the child. My understanding from both my husband and step son was she NEVER did this before and would always contact my step son to set up visits and so forth. She also started showi g up at my work and telling people that her and my husband were working on getting back together. Now keep in mind, my husbands true feelings about his ex- wife is beyond hate, however he stayed civil for his sons sake only. One day about 1 month into our relationship the child came home with from an hour visit after not seeing her for two weeks, upset, crying and mad. When my husband confronted him, he stated he really didn’t want to see his mother anymore and she didn’t deserve him. See, she didn’t see the child in weeks and the child was made to feel she only picked him up to question my husband and my relationship. She kept saying , I can’t believe your dad is marrying a women he just met, what if she can’t be trusted and she is poisoning your food, but not once asked him how he was doing or how he felt about the relationship. Several months went by with very little visits, until one day the mother texted my husband stating our son was avoiding her and responding to her texts with a I’m busy and don’t want to see you today. She started accusing myself and my husband of holding visits from her. Now keep in mind, my husband would not be aware our son went with his mother until he arrived home from work and the child wasn’t home. My husband would always in the previous years even prior to me, make his child go for the hour or two just to keep the peace. My husband was in great fear of her removing the child from his custody. She has threatened this when he didn’t give her what she wanted. We went to court to get a primary physical custody with visits to mom in writing. To make everything legal, since she was threatening the child, that she was going to have my husband in contempt and put him in jail. The judge spoke to my step son and granted a gal. Well unfortunately, the guardian ad litem met with each of us for 1 hour. Her recommendation was PPC with dad and visits with mom pending counseling. When it went in front of the judge, the judge agreed, however granted the mom immediate visits and counseling. Keep in mind, she hasn’t seen the child in 10 months. My step son told both the judge and the gal that he would walk in her house and walk right back out if he had to go. I believe the couseling will help all of us, however, my step sim is so angry at his mom, I’m afraid of what could happen when they are alone. His rage for her from the abandonment and finding her on Facebook in bars after she canceled its him, finally out him over the edge. The lying, harassment of myself and husband and past seven years brought this child to the level of wanting to hurt her. The judge, attorneys and gal read this as him just being a teenager and whatever he is really mad at is more then the past with his mother. Don’t they realize this child’s feelings are real and they are setting this up for a disaster and who do you think would be responsible. Yes, my husband. The man who played the role of mother, father, friend, and sole provider. Now again, keep in mind, I’m the only one that has told this child not to run from her but confront her, (this was again early on) and at least try to fix things with her before just writing her off. However, the mother is putting all the blame on me. My children father and his new wife are part of my family, I treat their children, my ex-husband step children no different then my own. With this said, why win the hell would I or couldi alienate or change a very strong minded child’s perception of his own mother in such a short time or a all? So counseling and the short 2 hour visits will begin and we will be back in court in 60 days for a determination. Now this outcome was decided because the mother actually had presented text messages between my husband that were friendly showing that after we married they got nasty. Well the messages got nasty cause she started harassing us! Of course, the judge took this as after we married, it must have something to do with me since the tone of the messages changed and the child started this after we married. She never heard the testimony that my step so. Has been begging his dad not to see her for the past 2 years prior to me even knowing them. Well I wish the best for my step child and hope he could over come this. I would hope the mother really realizes this is due to her actions and face up to it. If she doesnt stop blaming me and takes a good hard look at the ral reason, she will lose him forever and in just 3.5 years he will be 18 and then she will not beagle to blame us and hold us responsible with her lies. There is so much more that a book should be written in this but it is unfortunate that the small details don’t matter in the eyes of the court, the child really had no rights. Wish us luck!

  12. Lynn May 3, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Kim, I am in a similar situation. Can you tell me your outcome?

  13. Jen C April 5, 2018 at 9:06 pm #

    My husband’s ex-wife is the custodial parent of their 2 children. Our 15 year old began counseling for attempted suicide several months ago, and a week ago, the counselor called CPS for emotional abuse by the ex-wife. She also currently has a bench warrant related to truancy for this child and it is not the first time. Our 15 year old has made it clear that she does not want to live with her mother. We really can’t afford an attorney, so what do we need to do to protect her and have the custody arrangement changed?

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