Child Custody: When Do the Kids Get the Choice?

“I share joint physical custody of my 3 children (9,13 & 15) with my ex-wife. She is very controlling, a typical helicopter parent. She drives everyone crazy, including the kids. I’ve asked her to calm down and she gets extremely defensive (everyone is against her, I don’t support her rules, blah, blah, blah). Last weekend my kids came back after a week with their mom and they were all very depressed and appeared mentally exhausted. My two oldest children are now asking if they can spend less time with their mom. What are my obligations here? I know I have to follow the court order, but how can I make teenagers go where they don’t want to go? Any advice would be appreciated.”

In child custody law, unless there is evidence of substance abuse, mental health issues, and/or physical abuse on the part of Mom, the children’s refusal to go to court ordered visitation is not likely to be a justifiable excuse to deny the visitation. If you were to facilitate and entertain any refusal on the part of the children to visit Mom it would technically be contempt of court. If the children refuse to go to Mom’s house this can be used against you in court.

There are many things that children do not like to do, but are forced to do anyway because it is in their best interests. Forcing the children to do their homework, eat their vegetables, have a curfew, and do their chores are all part of our basic expectations for our kids. In the divorce context, visiting and respecting the other parent should be added to this list.

If the situation is so bad that the children’s well-being is suffering, then your only legal option is to file a motion to modify the arrangement or reduce Mom’s parenting time. Under no circumstances should you unilaterally deny visitation. The court must be able to enforce its orders.

Rather than looking to the court to resolve, however, you should suggest family counseling to Mom in order to determine the root of the problem and help fix the strained relationship between Mom and the children. This will only work, however, if the children’s desire not to see mom is not tied to any disregard you have for Mom.

One thing is for certain, it is never a good idea to let the kids drive the bus.

Jessica H. Anderson
Divorce Attorney Reno, NV