At What Age Can a Child Refuse Visitation or Parental Time?

Family courts want parents to have quality time with their children. They want to see co-parents work together to make sure this happens. And whether custody and visitation decisions were made by you and your ex-spouse or by the court, non-compliance with your custody order can result in legal consequences. 

But what happens when it’s not you or your ex but your child refusing to comply with parental time or visitation?

Is there a difference between “visitation” and “parenting time?”

After divorce or separation, both parents have a legal right and responsibility to spend time with their children. 

Visitation and parenting time are basically two terms for the same concept: the designated time each parent gets with their children according to their custody agreement. While “visitation” may be the more familiar term, most modern courts tend to prefer the term “parenting time.” 

Regardless of what you call it, this is valuable time spent with each other. Which leads to the question: Do minor children ever have the right to refuse to spend time with one of their divorced parents?

Taking kids’ feelings into account post-divorce

Most divorced co-parents find it easier to maintain a consistent parenting time schedule when their kids are younger. As the kids get older, their lives get busier, and they tend to have more scheduling conflicts. 

They may also have opinions about where and with whom they want to spend their time. 

Does a child have a say in the matter? Depending on your state, a court may take an older child’s preferences into consideration when developing a custody arrangement or parenting plan. But once the custody order and parenting plan are in place, everyone is bound by it. 

As co-parents, it is your responsibility to work through conflict and encourage quality time with each other.

  • Remember that your children will pick up on any conflict between you and your ex, and this could affect their behavior.
  • Respect each other's time with the kids. Treat both homes as your children’s home.

When kids see their parents acting respectfully toward each other, they may become more comfortable in both places. 

Can a child under 18 refuse time with a parent?

As long as your child is under 18, they are considered a minor, and the court maintains that spending time with both parents is in their best interest. Consequently, in most cases, any minor child must lawfully spend time with both parents according to the terms of their parenting agreement. 

If a child is reluctant to spend time with one parent, the co-parents should work together to address the issue. If you’re still getting a lot of resistance, you might consider seeking professional help. Reconciliation counseling or family therapy can help co-parenting families work through many of these issues. 

If there is a significant change in circumstance, such as one parent relocating for work, you and your co-parent might consider changing your parenting time arrangement through the court.

Suggested reading: Important Things to Revisit or Update after Your Divorce is Final

Can visitation be enforced?

As kids age, it can become more difficult to force them to see a parent they don’t want to see. 

Communicate any refusal with your ex so you can work together to repair any issues that are causing your child’s reluctance. Courts usually won’t get involved unless one parent tries to enforce the custody order against the other.

If your co-parent is the one preventing you access to your child, you can have your parenting schedule enforced through the court. In this case, keep track of all visitation dates, denied attempts, excuses given, and ways you tried to work it out with your ex. You will need this evidence if you decide to bring the matter before a judge.

Why might a child not want to see their parent?

Kids have many reasons for not wanting to spend time with their parents. Especially in a co-parenting situation, they may be struggling with different household rules or parenting styles. They may dislike one parent’s new partner, or they may not get along with new family members. Their reasons will be as unique as your situation. It’s up to you and your ex to work out ways to make it more comfortable for your kids to spend time with both of you.

If your children continue to actively resist spending time with either of you, there may be a good reason for it. Talk to your kids to understand their reluctance.

  • There may be a domestic violence situation that you’re unaware of. 
  • New family dynamics might be causing your child to feel ignored and isolated. 
  • You may even need to consider that your ex is intentionally damaging your relationship with your child and making your child not want to spend time with you. 

Protecting kids’ safety and mental health

The emotional impact of divorce on children can be considerable. Your kids’ safety and emotional health should take top priority when you’re co-parenting. You can cut down on your kids’ stress by doing the following:

  • Reducing fighting between yourself and your ex as much as possible
  • Focusing on your own emotional well-being 
  • Showing your children as much attention as you did before the divorce, if not more
  • Keeping communication open between you and your children, and get them help if they are having difficulty acclimating to their post-divorce life
  • Keeping lines of communication open with your ex so you can deal with any potential issues with a united front 

Divorce is difficult for everyone, especially children. At Hello Divorce, we offer online divorce plans, other financial and legal services, and a library of resources to assist parents who are navigating the difficult terrain of divorce. If you have questions, schedule a free 15-minute call with us.