Even when a parenting time (visitation) schedule has been worked out between the parties, or even ordered by Judge, things can wrong. Unexpected weather, illness, family affairs, school events, and sports can all impact a schedule. Parents are expected to work within the confines of these circumstances and make the sacrifices and adjustments necessary to accommodate the “best interests” of the children. That means putting their own desires and interests in the back seat. But what happens when the child him/herself is the “unexpected event”? What happens when the child refuses parenting time?
First, take the high road. It is the primary custodial parent’s affirmative obligation to implement parenting time. That means doing such practical things as having the child available, packing a suitcase, and/or dropping the child off at the designated time and place. What most Judges will also interpret that to mean, however, is doing the less tangible things as well such as encouraging the child to attend, not making the child feel guilty about enjoying his/her time with the other parent, and not setting artificial roadblocks such as scheduling events or activities that he/she knows will conflict.
Second, do not physically force the child. A custodial parent is not expected to physically force an older child into (or out of) the car, or to drag him or her out of their bedroom, nor is a non-custodial parent permitted to go “get him”. While a crying two year old in a car seat is not a physical impediment, a defiant 12 year old is. Physical confrontation by either parent will not likely be tolerated by the court and often only makes the situation worse.
Third, calling the police is dangerous and often unproductive. The police will generally not get involved and are certainly not going to physically force a child into a car or out of a house. Intentionally withholding parenting time is a crime and will result in police action, but when confronted with a defiant teenager, an officer is not going to “remove” him/her. The job of the police is to keep the peace, and they will likely refer you to family court.
So what, then, to do: Call the other parent and discuss the circumstances. If this is impossible, call the child directly and speak to him or her. Address his/her fears or concerns about the visit. Often they are simple and easily addressed (for instance, “I don’t want to miss Sally’s party” or “ I don’t want to be around your new boyfriend”). If it goes further than this, perhaps therapy is necessary to address the concerns or issues of the child. A child acting out in this manner needs help. A therapeutic setting can provide a safe and open environment to dispel misinformation or bad assumptions. As a last resort, file a motion and seek enforcement through the courts. The term “parent alienation” is too often thrown around these days, but if there is a true case of such behavior then only court intervention can repair the damage done.
“Legitimate” objections by a child open an entirely new set of problems that will be addressed in a separate blog. No parent should ever put a child into a situation where they are subject to abuse or harm. Short of that there is no age when a child absolutely has the right to cut him or herself off from a non-custodial parent. Often, objections by a child are attempts to manipulate parents or control an aspect of their lives that can often feel out of control. Understand it for what it is, and address it with measured, appropriate response. Treat the problem, not the symptom. It takes patience and sacrifice, but is the better long-term solution.
Drew Molotsky, Esq. is a shareholder and partner at Adinolfi, Molotsky, Burick & Falkenstein, PA. Drew successfully completed the requirements for certification in matrimonial law as set forth by the Supreme Court of New Jersey’s Board on Attorney Certification and as a result has been certified as a Matrimonial Law Attorney by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Drew is also a Court-approved Rule 1:40-4 mediator and is included on the Family Court’s roster of mediators for economic aspects of family law cases in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester Counties.