Do I Have To Force My Child To Visit His Father Or Mother???November 9, 2015
Pennsylvania Child Custody Schedules and Child Refusal
Complying with child custody schedules, whether agreed to by the parties or imposed by the court, is difficult even under the best of circumstances. Younger children often have separation anxiety and transitioning from one parent to the other can be traumatic, at least momentarily. Older children will occasionally decide, for whatever reason, that they do not want to visit with a parent and will simply refuse to go. The question that I hear in these situations is, “Must I drag my child kicking and screaming to his mother’s (or father’s) house when he just does not want to go?” Do I have to force her to abide by a custodial schedule that she does not like? If the schedule is part of a court order, the answer is yes. You cannot stand in contempt of the order and therefore, difficult as it may be, compliance with the order is not optional. Even though it may seem unfair to the child who does not want to go and to the parent who has to be the assurer of compliance, failure to comply can lead to potential sanctions for failure to abide by the court order.
Exception – Child in Jeopardy
Of course, the exception to this generally hard and fast rule would be a situation where a parent truly believes that compliance with the order would place the child in serious jeopardy. If that is the case, a parent may decide to err on the side of caution and decline to send a child for a visit that he fears will cause harm to the child. If this course of action is undertaken, the withholding parent should immediately file a petition to bring the situation before the court to have the safety concerns addressed. Unilaterally withholding the child without the follow up request for court intervention is not acceptable.
But assuming there is no safety issue, how does a parent address the problem of a child who simply refuses to visit the other parent? Depending upon the age of the child and the child’s reason for the refusal, it is certainly within the court’s discretion to find that the child is not compelled to visit with a parent. However, rulings of this nature are not common and if granted can have far reaching consequences.
What will the Court Do?
In a recent New York case, the lower court held that a child who was vehemently opposed to visiting his father should not be required to do so. This decision was upheld on appeal with the additional order that the lower court should have also granted father’s request to terminate his support obligation. Generally, in Pennsylvania, custodial time and payment of support are separate issues. However, if the court believes that the child’s refusal to have contact with a parent is based upon the actions of the custodial parent, it is quite possible that the court would eliminate the child support payment being received by the custodial parent. This type of ruling would be unusual but in extreme cases of parent alienation, it is certainly a remedy available to the court.
Another remedy available to the court would be to switch the primary custody of the child. In extreme situations, the court can simply transfer primary custody if convinced that the custodial arrangement is affording the custodial parent continuing opportunity to alienate the child from the other parent. Again, this is a very extreme remedy and typically not be done without an order that the child undergo counseling during and for a time after the transition to help him adjust to the change.
Bottom-line: Compliance with a court order is a serious matter and any decision to unilaterally alter a custody order should not be made without consideration of the consequences of the decision.
Contact DZMM For Assistance
If you would like to additional information regarding Child Custody, please contact Daley Zucker Meilton & Miner, LLC, to set up a consultation.