Do I have to force the kids to see dad?

As much as no one wants it to happen, the kids are always right smack dab in the middle of a divorce. Kids often feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for the breakdown of the marriage, and that responsibility can cause them to act out in ways that are confusing for their parents.

“Do I have to make him see his dad if he doesn’t want to?” is a question I get all the time. The answer is (as always) it depends.

It depends on a lot of factors. If there is a history of abuse and you have a reason to be afraid for your child’s safety, it is reasonable to withhold visitation. Similarly, if your child’s father’s behavior has been erratic and unpredictable, you’re probably justified in rescheduling visitation.

Sometimes, courts do allow children a say in visitation. Usually, this doesn’t happen until the child is at least fourteen years of age and, even then, it’s a rare occurrence. Generally speaking, the courts don’t like to involve children in custody disputes.

If you have an agreement or a court order regarding custody, it is probably in your best interests to follow it, even though your child may not want to visit with dad. For one thing, it is not the children that the court obligates to follow its orders—it is you. Your child’s failure to comply can result with you being held in contempt. The court DOES see it as your job to facilitate visitation between the kids and dad. That can be difficult, particularly when your child doesn’t want to go and, frankly, you understand why the child would be angry and upset.

It’s important to remember that a minor child is still a child, and is not a fit person to make mature, rational adult decisions. A fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen year old really isn’t fit to make decisions as important and life-altering as whether to have a relationship with his father. Sometimes, it’s necessary to force children to do things for their own good later on down the road.

Ultimately, the decision whether to follow or disregard your custody order is your own. You should look carefully at the situation and the circumstances that have caused your child to refuse to go, and make the best decision you can. Is your child refusing because he thinks it will hurt your feelings if he goes? Is your child mad at his dad because of something you’ve said? It can be hard to send your child to visit when every word he utters is proof of what you’ve been saying all along. It’s normal to feel vindicated by your child’s feelings, and it’s normal to want to shield your children from the pain that your child’s father has caused you. There are a million other reasons you might resist sending the child, but ultimately you have to ask yourself whether not having a relationship with dad is really in your child’s best interests, and whether it’s worth going back to court on a show cause and, ultimately, risking being held in contempt of court.

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