When Can Children Make Their Own Decisions About Visitation?
How a child’s wishes, state requirements, and other factors affect visitation.
Visitation decisions depend on age
Children cannot make major decisions independently until they are legally considered adults at age 18. Once legally considered adults, they can decide things like visitation without parental involvement. Before the age of 18, each state has 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.
Most states consider the wishes of a child as young as 12 or 14. Still, it can vary depending on how the judge perceives the child’s maturity. Some judges will ask the child what they want and consider their wishes. In contrast, others will not consult the child and instead make recommendations based on their perception of the child’s best interest.
What factors affect child visitation?
Best interests of the child
In some cases, a guardian ad litem, child custody evaluator, or independent investigator will be appointed to assess the child, co-parents, and other factors involved in the co-parenting environment. A guardian ad litem or other third-party investigator aims to assess the child’s best interest and recommend custody schedule adjustments as needed. While the investigator may interview the child to learn about and consider their preferences, they may recommend a different custody arrangement than what the co-parents or the child involved want.
Even if a parent and child want the same thing, it may not necessarily be in the child’s best interests. Negotiating a custody and visitation schedule with the help of a third-party arbitrator or mediator allows co-parents to work out their differences, receive neutral feedback on the situation, and arrive at an amicable solution that is in the child’s best interests.
Child’s refusal to go
Dealing with a child who refuses to attend visitation is something that many co-parents can experience. It can be gut-wrenching to pick up a child kicking and screaming to resist going to a scheduled visitation. Children can refuse to go on visitation for many reasons. Your child may be concerned about missing an important social event with friends. Due to the separation, your child may be angry, resentful, or rebellious toward you and your co-parent. Additionally, your child may feel guilty for leaving you to spend time with their other parent.
It is your responsibility as a parent to ensure your children adhere to the custody and visitation agreement, just like it is your responsibility to ensure they go to school. Any efforts you and your co-parent make should aim to make your child’s transition between parents easier. Creating a positive environment surrounding visitation and transition days is a great way to encourage your child to be excited about visiting the other parent and vice-versa. Encourage visitation and talk to your child about the importance of them spending time with both parents.
Communicating with your child and your co-parent is critical for any aspect of the visitation schedule, whether your child happily attends visitation or throws a tantrum. Ensure that you and your co-parent communicate about any changes to planned visitations and ways to make visitation for each other and your child.
If your child refuses a scheduled visitation, talk to your child and determine why they don’t want to visit their other parent. Remember, decades of research show that it is in your child’s best interests – emotionally, physically, mentally, socially, and academically - to have a relationship with both parents. While your child may not understand the importance of spending time with both parents, your child’s other parent should understand and support it.
Both co-parents are responsible for encouraging and supporting visitation and ensuring their child is available for the other parent. Discuss your findings with your co-parent after speaking to your child about why they refuse visitation. Both you and your co-parent should work together to find a solution that addresses the child’s concerns while still fulfilling visitation requirements
Even though it seems like a good decision for your child at the time, allowing your child to skip visitation means you are violating a court order and leaving yourself subject to potential penalties. Additionally, repeated failures to attend visitation can lead to further litigation and consequences. If you let this happen, contact your attorney to ensure they are aware and can provide recommendations on the next steps. Document each incident carefully if your child refuses visitation, as you may have to testify in court due to violating visitation requirements.
Penalties involved with violating a court order include:
While contacting your attorney is an important step, you also may need to involve other professionals if you suspect that your child requires additional assistance with their concerns around visitation. Depending on the severity of your child’s resistance to attending visitation, there may be signs that your child is in distress. Separation can have a significant impact on children, and getting professional help through child therapy can be a helpful tool to combat the effects. In addition to seeking outside help, there are ways to talk to your child about the separation and help them recover productively.
If you suspect your child refuses visitation due to abuse or neglect, you must seek court intervention immediately. Additionally, if you feel your co-parent is purposefully withholding or interfering with your scheduled visitation, this could constitute parental kidnapping. Any significant issues that may result in court intervention should be conveyed to your family law attorney for advice on the next steps and guidance on state-specific requirements. Court actions can range from granting emergency custody to adjusting shared physical or legal custody.
Whether you succeed in or struggle with your co-parenting arrangement, TalkingParents offers helpful tools for every situation. For parents who manage visitation and custody schedules, the Shared Calendar keeps events organized and accessible for both co-parents. Each event in the Calendar can include standard details and additional information as needed, ensuring everything from custody exchanges to doctor’s appointments go smoothly. Using the Calendar and other features in TalkingParents helps co-parents reduce time spent on tedious tasks and focus on what matters most—their children.