What If the Child Doesn’t Want to See a Parent?
When parents are separated in Pennsylvania, the father will usually get about 28% of the time with the kids. However, some older children may be unhappy with this balance, and they may even want to completely cut out one of the parents from their lives. This feeling could be even more accentuated during the COVID-19 crisis when kids do not want to leave home.
A Parent Cannot Contribute to the Situation
The question is how far a parent must go in order to encourage their child to see the other parent. What’s absolutely certain is that the parent cannot encourage their child to not visit with the other parent. For example, they cannot suggest that the child stay home and not see their parent due to any COVID-19-related concerns. If that happens, it could be grounds for an alienation charge. This could even lead to a change in custody and other court sanctions against the alienating parent, such as contempt of court.
However, the parent rides a very fine line between hearing a child out and encouraging the situation. This places them in legal peril. One of the first things that a parent should do if their child voices a preference to not see the other parent is to contact a child custody lawyer for guidance. The current pandemic situation requires an even more delicate approach.
Have a Neutral Conversation
At the same time, the parent should know the reason why the child does not want to see the other parent. If it’s something that threatens the safety or well-being of the child, the parent should know what’s happening.
However, there is a narrow distinction between listening to the child’s concerns and being perceived as contributing to the situation. The parent should definitely have a conversation with the child to understand the roots of their concerns.
If the concerns do not involve the child’s well-being, the parent probably should encourage them to observe the visitation schedule and see the other parent. At the very least, it’s important to be seen as promoting a relationship with the other parent given the consequences for alienation.
What Happens If the Child Refuses to Visit?
This is where a parent ends up in a very delicate situation. Failing to make the child available for the visit at the appointed time in the custody schedule can mean contempt of court charges. On the other hand, a parent would hate to force the child into something.
In general, the parent should err on the side of making the child available for the visit. This is especially true during the COVID-19 lockdown when the court does not want to see parents acting unilaterally on their own. However, if the child absolutely refuses to see the other parent, there will need to be some documentation to keep the parent out of trouble with the court. If your child just simply will not go, you’ll need to send a timely message to the other parent. Try to take some video or recordings of the child’s refusal so that there is some documentation. You should also notify your attorney as soon as possible for guidance on how to handle the situation.
Will the Court Order the Child to Visit?
A family court judge will certainly want to know the reason why the child does not want to visit with the other parent. The judge may even bring the child into his or her chambers for a conversation without either of the parents present to get to the bottom of the situation.
The court is more likely to order a change in the visitation agreement in accordance with the child’s wishes if the child is a teenager. At that age, a minor has some more say over the situation. If the child is younger, the court may not decree a change in the arrangements absent some compelling reason to do so.
Your legal path may be fraught with danger if you are in this position, so you need to act very carefully. This may even be more accentuated right now by the fact that COVID-19 has largely closed family courts.
If you are having issues with your custody agreement, contact a child custody lawyer at the Law Office of Joanne Kleiner in Jenkintown, PA. Call us at (215) 886-1266 to schedule your consultation.