Can a Child Refuse Parenting Time in Hingham, MA?

Not much can be more heartbreaking than dealing with a child who is refusing parenting time with one of their parents in Hingham, MA. This situation can be challenging as well as emotionally fraught. On the one hand, you want to enforce the parenting schedule, but on the other, you don’t want to take actions that could further alienate your child and damage the relationship.

Generally, if the child is under 18, the court has jurisdiction over whether the child must visit with a parent. However, as children approach age 14 and beyond, the courts weigh their preference on parenting time. That said, the child’s preference is only a consideration, and the court can still decide to force the child to visit or live with a parent.

If the court orders parenting time, the court, at the very least, expects the primary parent to encourage the child’s relationship with their other parent. Moreover, the other party can file a contempt if a party does not follow the court order designating parenting time.

However, situations are not always this clear-cut. If a child refuses to spend time with a parent and it’s difficult for the parent to force the child to go, there may be no contempt because it may not be a “willful” violation of the court order on the parent’s part.

Suffice it to say that these are very difficult situations, and what you should do depends on the specific circumstances. With this in mind, it’s helpful to divide this subject into two categories.

1. When the Issue is Between the Parent and the Child

If the refusal of parenting time is only an issue between you and your child in Hingham, MA, and the other parent is not involved in the problem, it tends to be easier to address. Even better is if the other parent is supportive of resolving the issue.

Whenever possible, you want to address these issues organically. Consider the following tips.

  • Engage in open communication. Sit down with your child and have an honest discussion about their feelings and concerns.
  • Involve a clinician. Consider hiring a therapist or counselor who can work with both you and your child to understand the issues at hand and work towards repairing the relationship. Try to encourage your child to participate in discussions and counseling sessions about what’s happening and how to fix the relationship.
  • Schedule family meetings. Have family meetings involving both parents and the child, especially if the other parent is supportive of resolving the issue.
  • Consult a family law attorney. If you believe you’re not making progress, consult with a family law attorney so you can better understand your options and take appropriate legal action.

2. When the Issue Involves the Other Parent

The situation becomes more complicated if the other parent is not supportive or is actually contributing to the problem in Hingham, MA. The latter is often referred to as parental alienation and describes when one parent pushes the child away from the other parent. Again, it is best to try and resolve the situation organically, even if the other parent is not on board.

If organic methods do not work or the other parent continues to be unsupportive, you may need to consider legal and clinical interventions. Judges do not have much tolerance for alienation, especially without a good reason, such as a safety issue. If there’s evidence that the primary parent is pushing the other parent away, the repercussions could be severe, possibly resulting in a change of custody.

However, before a judge alters an existing residential schedule, they might order clinical work or family counseling to address the issues. Clinical work can include individual therapy for the child or family sessions to improve communication and resolve conflicts.

In cases of suspected alienation, the court might appoint a guardian ad litem who can investigate and report back with recommendations. This investigation can provide an objective view of the situation and suggest ways forward.

Should you believe that the other parent is behind the problem, it’s important to take legal action to address these issues promptly. Specifically, if the other parent is not cooperating, you may need to file a motion in court.

The longer you let the issue persist, the more entrenched the child’s refusal can become, especially as they get older. Forcing teenagers, particularly those 14 years or older, into a situation they don’t want can be trying for everyone involved.

Teenagers

Issues with teenagers are common, including telling teens they must comply with a parenting time schedule that may no longer appeal to them. Consider the following case.

A woman came to us a while back with the issue that her 14-year-old son preferred spending more time at his dad’s house because his dad allowed him more freedom. Understandable. People don’t generally look for more restrictions on their behavior.

Faced with stricter rules and boundaries at his mom’s house, the teenager resisted coming over. His mother struggled because she couldn’t force him to come. Her question was thus, “What do I do about this?”

Legal Realities for Parenting Time with Teenagers

As mentioned earlier, once a child reaches the age of 14, it becomes more difficult to convince a judge to issue orders on parenting time that go against the child’s wishes. The exception to this rule is if there is a serious issue with one of the parents or a safety concern. A judge may restrict parenting time if one parent has serious issues that could negatively impact the child.

In the absence of such concerns, courts are reluctant to issue orders that are difficult to enforce. Forcing a teenager into a parenting schedule they don’t want can lead to them acting out or leaving the house.

Managing the Situation Organically

If your teenager refuses to spend time with you, once again, organically managing the situation becomes important. That means building your relationship with your child to the point where they want to come to your home. You might wonder how to do this without compromising the necessary rules and boundaries. Here are some strategies.

  • Build a stronger relationship. Focus on strengthening your bond with your teenager. You can do this by engaging in activities they like and spending quality time together, creating a more welcoming and appealing atmosphere.
  • Adjust rules and boundaries. Create a happy medium by making certain adjustments to your rules. This doesn’t mean having no rules at all, but rather finding a balance that entices your teenager to stay with you while maintaining necessary boundaries to keep them safe.
  • Practice open communication. Have open and honest conversations with your teenager about their feelings and concerns. Understanding their perspective can help you make necessary adjustments so they feel more comfortable.
  • Go to family counseling. Arrange family counseling sessions to work through differences with the guidance of a neutral third party. A therapist trained and experienced in supporting teens and families of divorce can facilitate better communication and help resolve underlying issues.
  • Avoid legal confrontations. Filing complaints for contempt against your child’s other parent is often ineffective if the child’s refusal is due to their preferences. Only consider legal action if there is clear evidence that the other parent is interfering with your parenting time.
  • Seek legal counsel. If you suspect your child’s other parent is obstructing contact or making it difficult to build or sustain a relationship with your child, consult with a Massachusetts family law attorney. They can help determine if filing for contempt is appropriate and walk you through the legal process so that you have a valid case. Always consult an attorney before filing any paperwork to avoid frivolous complaints.

Find a Hingham Child Custody Lawyer with experience handling parenting time refusals by children.

Dealing with a teenager who doesn’t want to spend time with you during your parenting time requires patience, empathy, and strategic planning. While the legal system may have limitations in such cases, focusing on building a positive relationship and finding a balanced approach to rules can do a lot to improve the situation. For additional support, seeking professional counseling or legal advice to navigate the complexities of co-parenting a teenager is also prudent.

At Farias Family Law, our team of empathetic family law attorneys is here to advise you on practical matters with your children should they refuse parenting time and guide you through the legal system if you need to take your matter to court. Call us today.

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