Parenting time (visitation) orders and agreements in parenting plans or stipulations are sometimes made long before children are teenagers. Or, sometimes parenting time (visitation) orders and agreements are made when children are teenagers, but things change after the divorce or custody case is over – and those orders just don’t work any more in the real world.
There may be many reasons why a teenager does not want to visit with the other parent. For example:
• The teenager may think one parent is too strict (maybe the parent does not let the teenager play with a Play Station, or the parent actually makes the child do homework or chores; or the parent does not let the teenager hang out with friends in the basement, etc.).
• The teenager has after school extracurricular activities, and one of the parents doesn’t want to drive the teenager to the activity or the child is “too busy.”
• The teenager is just lazy, and doesn’t want to pack up and go to the other parent’s house.
• The relationship between the teenager and the parent has just deteriorated, and the teenager doesn’t want to see or speak with the other parent.
In any of those situations, the parent who allows the teenager to choose to not go to the other parent, could be in trouble with the law.
When the parties reach an agreement on parenting time (visitation) or on custody (decision making), and that agreement is approved by the court, it is a “court order.” In order for our legal system to work, judges need to be able to impose some penalties against a parent who does not comply with a court order. The penalty or remedial phase of a case, when a parent does not comply with a court order, is called a “contempt proceeding.”
In 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals decided in the case titled “In re Marriage of Dean,” that “[a]lthough it might be difficult to compel a child, particularly a teenager, to comply with a court-ordered parenting plan, this does not excuse a parent from making reasonable good faith efforts to secure the child’s compliance.” The Court of Appeals took the position that a parent is not a “powerless bystander” in the decisions and actions of a child, and has “an obligation to attempt to overcome the child’s resistance” to visitation with the other parent.
In other words, a parent is expected to do more than refrain from discouraging visitation; a parent is expected to take affirmative action to encourage visitation. So how can a parent “do more than refrain from discouraging visitation,” and “take affirmative action to encourage visitation?” The answer is unknown, because the decision in the Dean case did not include any information about how that happens.
Some practical suggestions include: (1) texting or emailing the teenager and telling him or her that he or she has to go to the other parent for parenting time; (2) getting the child into therapy to try to address the teenager’s refusal to go to the other parent (but remember, if a parent has joint decision making authority, the therapy decision has to be made jointly); (3) filing a motion with the court, asking the court for some guidance about what to do; (4) talking with the other parent and confirming in writing what arrangements are trying to be made to compel the child to go with the other parent; and (5) consulting with a child development expert to get expert on advice on how to help the teenager go to the other parent.
Court orders have to be followed, or the disobedient parent can face severe consequences. Teenagers don’t make the rules. The judges and magistrates make the rules in the form of court orders. To avoid going to jail, paying attorney fees, and facing other sanctions, parents must comply with court orders.
Contact me if you have any questions about parenting time, visitation, or other child custody matters.