Once the divorce decree is signed, ex-spouses expect each other to stick to the terms of the order that divides the property and sets parameters for child custody and visitation for each parent. What happens when it is the children that do not adhere to the custody agreement?
For three siblings from Michigan, refusing to communicate with their father meant a visit to the state’s juvenile detention center after the children refused to see their father.
In 2015, Maya and Omar Tsimhoni had been in a five-year custody battle for siblings Roe, Natalie, and Liam. When the siblings refused to communicate with their father, Judge Gorcyca ordered the children to juvenile detention. Later, after the story received widespread media coverage, Gorcyca ordered the children to attend summer camp instead.
In a statement, Judge Gorcyca said, “These three children are not being punished, they have been removed from a home situation in which they were unable to pursue a healthy relationship with their father.” She said the mother was responsible for the, “worst case of parental alienation” she had ever seen.
Child Custody Orders
Like their parents, children are to abide by the court-ordered custody. The case in Michigan raises the question: “can they make my child see the other parent?” The answer may be within the terms of the type of custody.
By law, both parents and their children are expected to abide by the designated guidelines of their custody outcome. Consequences for not following the order can be contempt, make-up time, and additional attorney’s fees. If an issue arises, it is up to the parents to come to a mutual decision. If no mutual decision can be made, the parents may need to settle the problem with their lawyer.
What Should You Do
First, you should determine why your child does not want to visit the other parent. Understanding “why” your child does not want to see their mother or father can help you uncover and resolve any problems your child may have with the other parent.
- Listen to your Child- Listen to your child and respect their feelings. The simple act of listening can help calm any anxiety your child is feeling about the visit and helps identify other reasons for not wanting the time with the other parent.
- Feeling Fearful- Pay attention to clues that your child is truly fearful. In this situation, you must take immediate legal action to protect your child.
- Manipulation by the Child- Sometimes, your child may want to get out of doing chores or other activities. Sometimes the child has other things they would rather do such as visiting a friend in the neighborhood.
- Unintended Manipulation by the Parent- It’s possible to manipulate your child’s emotions towards the other parent without even realizing it. For instance, telling your child how “sad” you are when they are gone; or telling your child “how terrible” it was that they had to do something they didn’t want to at the other parent’s home, such as chores, can reaffirm your child’s feelings of anxiety about visiting the other parent.
- Intentional Manipulation by the Parent- Some parents project feelings their feelings of anger and resentment of the other parent onto their children and create an expectation that the children must choose sides and reject the other parent. The suite of behaviors by one parent that turns the children against the other parent is known as parental alienation. If one parent is interfering with visitation in this manner, you should consult with a family law attorney to discuss the legal options available.
You may need to involve other professionals to help you determine the best course of action if your child still refuses to visit the other parent. These situations can be difficult and complex, and you may risk making the situation worse by resolving it alone. If you have a good co-parenting relationship, discuss the situation with the other parent to help determine a solution that best benefits the child. You may also consider contacting a child counselor or even an experienced family law attorney.