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Divorced Parents: What To Do When Kids Refuse Visitation

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By Rosalind Sedacca, CCT

At the DadsDivorce.com website someone asked a question about what to do when kids refuse visitation. I thought this topic had value for every parent dealing with custody issues.

In response, an attorney at Cordell & Cordell said: “Most states have adopted parenting time guidelines to guide parents in resolving parenting time problems without the need to involve the courts for each issue that arises.

“Where I practice (Indiana), the guidelines state, "Parenting time is both a right and a responsibility, and scheduled parenting time shall occur as planned. If a child is reluctant to participate in parenting time, each parent shall be responsible to ensure the child complies with the scheduled parenting time. In no event shall a child be allowed to make the decision on whether scheduled parenting time takes place."

That makes it the responsibility of both parents to ensure that your child complies with the scheduled parenting time. But forcing compliance is not the clear solution, especially long-term. From a Child-Centered Divorce perspective, I also suggest you put your time and attention into understanding what’s going on with your children.

Ask yourself some serious and sobering questions:

What makes a child resist visitation with their other parent? Are they feeling guilty or disloyal when leaving one parent? Have they been privy to information, slurs or other comments that make them dislike the other parent? Has the other parent been mistreating them or disciplining them in a different way than the “preferred” parent? Was their relationship or communication with the other parent weak or limited prior to the divorce? Are they holding the other parent responsible for the divorce or its outcome?

Any one of these factors can influence a child’s decision regarding visitation and needs to be addressed. In many cases the parents can resolve the problem by discussing the issues together or with the guidance of a therapist or mediator. Are you co-parenting respectfully with one another? Are you sending mixed-messages to your kids about their other parent? Could you be showing signs of depression or neediness or talking about missing the kids so much that they are afraid to leave you?

In other cases it’s essential to sit down with your kids to find out what their feelings are. Have they been comfortable in both homes? Are the rules in each home too different or even conflicting? Have outside issues such as getting to school on time, bullying neighbors or other challenges affecting their well-being? Are your children afraid of spending time alone with one parent? And if so, why?

Seeking the advice of a professional counselor or divorce coach can be useful for parents in uncovering the motivation behind children’s behavior or anxieties. In addition, kids will often tell a child-psychologist “secrets” they’re not comfortable telling Mom or Dad. Listen to your children without judgment or lecturing. That only puts them on the defensive and stops the flow of communication. See if a family meeting to resolve issues together will work. When everyone contributes to and agrees on new rules they are more likely to be followed.

While visitation issues are certainly a legal matter, it’s essential that parents be pro-active in a non-legal ways as well. It’s much easier and saner to handle issues related to your children within the family than by giving up your power to judges and courts, when avoidable. Get the help you need from caring professionals who embrace the child-centered divorce philosophy and address these issues as soon as possible. Your children will appreciate your care and loving attention. Hopefully, everyone in the family will benefit and visitation issues can be resolved harmoniously for all concerned.

*** *** ***

Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, is a Divorce & Parenting Coach, relationship seminar facilitator and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children -- with Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right!, her ezine and other valuable resources about divorce and parenting issues, visit www.childcentereddivorce.com.

All rights reserved. © Rosalind Sedacca

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