My child does not want to go with his father! What should I do?
There are undoubtedly custody and visitation cases where children should not be allowed to go home with their fathers, such as when the father has serious drug or alcohol abuse problems, exhibits domestic violence or sexual abuse, or instances involving severe untreated mental illness. However, there are also times, during acrimonious custody and visitation cases, when children simply tell their mother that they “do not want to go” with their father. This is particularly true with younger children who have a strong bond with their mother.
For instance, they may beg their mother not to “make them go” with their father, they may cry when they are told that they have to go, they may refuse to leave the house when it is time to go, etc. Also, while they are staying at the father’s house, they may call on the phone begging and crying to come home, or say that they are bored and unhappy while at their father’s house. Once they return home, they may be perceived as acting out behaviorally, such as not having a good night sleep or not finishing their homework.
So what is to happen when children tell their mother that they do not want to go with their father? This often depends upon their age and whether or not there is a court order. For younger children, often times they will be expected to go regardless of their express wishes, whereas children 15 and up may not be forced to go by the court, particularly when they have planned activities that they want to attend. When there is no court order, the mother may not legally have to send the children to their father, but she runs the risk of a claim of parental alienation. If there is a court order and she refuses to comply with it, the court may punish her by contempt of court or, more seriously, a change of custody.
Recently, a court ruled that actress Kelly Rutherford could no longer exercise parenting time with her two young children, ages 6 and 9, in the United States. This was the result of her decision not to return them to their father, after they spent the entire summer with her in New York City, because she claimed that they begged and cried not to go. While it may have been very difficult to part with them, by refusing to abide by the court’s order, she lost the right to exercise parenting time in this country. Also, the court may have felt that these incidents would continue in the future so long as she had custody of them.
Obviously, it is upsetting when children have to transition from one parent to the other. However, children will often try and please both parents, so it is not unusual for them to say one thing to one parent and another thing to the other parent. Ultimately, the parent must act responsibly, and comply with the court order or pre-arranged agreement, even if the children get upset as they often do. If the child’s perceived opposition with visiting the other parent persists and continues to be a cause of concern, the best advice may be to work with a child psychologist so that visitation can go smoothly in the future.