We are frequently approached by parents wondering they can be found in civil contempt when it is the child who refuses to comply with a custody order.  Our family court judges have found that it is extremely difficult to find a parent in civil contempt when it is the child rather than the parent themselves who are failing to comply with the terms of the order. Grissom v. Cohen, 821 S.E.2d 454 (2018).

Although it is difficult to find the parent in contempt for the child’s decision, the parent does have an obligation to do everything they can reasonably do to encourage the child to comply with the custody order. Examples of a parent’s reasonable effort include driving the child to the co-parent and encouraging the child to visit with the co-parent.  A parent is not required to force the child or take any action that would be harmful to them, but a child “not feeling like it” is not going to be enough to avoid visitation.

Parents facing this issue should try to work on a resolution together.  Being a good co-parent will only help the children in the long run.  Putting past differences aside is key, although is easier said than done.  Other options can include family counseling or using a fun drop off location, such as a park, restaurant, or drop-in daycare.  It is also important to rule out any form of abuse, physical/emotional/sexual if a child is afraid or anxious about visitation.

Using a drop in daycare, that the children enjoy going to, is a great solution as you can avoid the children having to choose which parent they want to go to.  It is also a good way to avoid face to face exchanges for high-conflict or domestic violence cases.

When a child is refusing to go to visitation, a compliance order may be more appropriate if you believe the other parent is at fault.  Rather than immediately resorting to contempt, the court may enter an order directing the parent to take certain actions to encourage a child to comply with the order.  If the parent fails to take these actions, then civil contempt may be an appropriate remedy.

When children refuse visitation it can be a tough call for both parents on what they should do to resolve the issue.  Contact our experienced family law attorney to help you navigate through the process, which can save a lot of headache and potentially avoid court action (and significant legal fees).