When Can Children Make Their Own Decisions About Visitation?


Visitation Decisions Depend on Age

Legally, children can make their own decisions when they reach the age of majority, which is 18 years of age. These decisions include decisions about visitation.

Before the age of 18, different states have different requirements for when they will allow a child to have a say in visitation or where they will live, but the court does not have to follow the child’s wishes. The age in most states is 12 or 14, but it can vary depending on how the judge perceives the maturity of the child.

an investigator will be appointed to make recommendations as to what custody and visitation schedule will be in the best interests of a child

Child Visitation Considerations

Best Interests of the Child

In some custody cases, a guardian ad litem, child custody evaluator, or independent investigator will be appointed to make recommendations as to what custody and visitation schedule will be in the best interests of a child. While the investigator may interview the child on their preferences, they may make a recommendation for custody that differs.

Why? The same reason the parent of a 12-year-old might refuse to allow their child to attend a late-night rock concert—while it’s what the child wants, it isn’t in the child’s best interests.

Ideally, you and your co-parent will be able to work out a custody and visitation schedule without leaving it to a judge or the courts to decide. A judge will never know and love your child the way you and your co-parent do.

Negotiating a custody and visitation schedule with the help of a third-party arbitrator or mediator allows co-parents to work out their differences and arrive at an amicable solution that is in the best interests of the child.

Child’s Refusal to Go to Visitation

What if your child refuses to go on a scheduled visitation? This problematic situation is something that co-parents may experience.

If your child is young, it can be gut-wrenching to pick up a child who is kicking and screaming and force them to get into a car for their scheduled visitation. If your child is a teenager, it is probably physically impossible to force them to go.

Children refuse to go on visitation for many reasons. Your child may be concerned about missing an important social event or time with friends. Your child may be angry or resentful at you and your co-parent for separating and is rebelling against you. Your child may feel guilty for leaving you, especially if you’ve been bad-mouthing your co-parent or if you get upset or agitated when they get ready to go.

In these situations, it is important to remember that you can be held in contempt of court for violating your custody agreement. It is your responsibility as a parent to ensure your minor children adhere to the custody and visitation agreement, just like it is your responsibility as a parent to ensure your minor children go to school.

Communication Goes A Long Way

Communicating with both your child and your co-parent is critical when your child is refusing a scheduled visitation.

Start by talking to your child and find out why they don’t want to visit their other parent. Remember, decades of research show that it is in the best interests of your child – emotionally, physically, and academically - to have a relationship with both parents.

It is your responsibility to be encouraging and supportive of visitation and make sure your child is available for the other parent.

After speaking to your child about why they are refusing visitation, you need to communicate quickly with your co-parent. How can you work together to address the child’s concerns? Document each incident carefully if your child refuses visitation, as you may have to testify in court about this down the line.
Court Involvement
Remember, you are violating a court order if you allow your child to skip visitation.

Penalties for Violating a Court Order
  • Being held in contempt of court
  • Facing monetary penalties or jail time
  • Facing a legal claim for a change in custody
  • Your co-parent could request supervised visitations if they allege you are interfering with their parental relationship to the child
If you suspect abuse or neglect as a reason why your child is refusing visitation, you must seek court intervention immediately. Talk to a lawyer right away.  

If you feel like a co-parent is purposefully withholding or interfering with your scheduled visitation, you will need to consult with a family attorney as to your options.

Learn about the benefits of a co-parenting app