Child Support, Visitation & Parental Rights

Is it ever okay to refuse visitation?

Mom and dad arguing over visitation.

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Many parents are confused about child support and visitation. You're not alone in having questions about when and how these two co-exist. Under the law, the two issues are actually separate, and parents need to recognize the distinctions between them. Whether you're a non-custodial parent or the primary custodian, understand what your parental rights are.

Why the Courts See Child Support and Visitation Separately

From the court's point of view, child support and child custody are two separate issues. Child support is a parent's obligation regardless of their parenting experience or ability. A child is entitled to this financial support no matter what sort of custody and/or visitation arrangements are in place.

Child custody determinations, on the other hand, are based on protecting the child's best interests. While multiple factors come into play, safety and consistency are generally high on the list.

Depending on the child custody laws adopted by a particular state, the courts may also highly prioritize the opportunity to allow the children to maintain at least as much contact with both parents as they enjoyed prior to the separation or divorce. Non-payment of child support is not often considered a reason to limit kids' time with their non-custodial parent.

Courts may recommend generous visitation or even shared custody regardless of whether the parent required to pay child support is actually up to date on those payments.

The Impact of No-Show Visitations

No-show visitations are another common point of frustration. What is a parent supposed to do if the non-custodial parent does not follow the visitation schedule? Should the custodial parent continue to set aside the time for visits—and endure painful post-no-show tantrums and breakdowns? 

Unfortunately, when a non-custodial parent chooses not to adhere to a court-ordered visitation schedule, the custodial parent has very few options. They can attempt to communicate with the other parent to learn why they are not participating in scheduled visitations. Or they can take the other parent back to court and request a revised visitation schedule.

Kids and Visitation Refusal

Let's face it: No one can (or should) force children to visit with their parent if they don't want to. However, there can be legal ramifications in cooperating with a child's visitation refusal. Anytime children refuse to participate in a planned visit with their other parent, you should:

  • Talk with them about why they do not want to participate in the visit (if they are concerned for their safety, contact your attorney for advice).
  • Assure your children that both parents love them and that you want them to spend time with their other parent.
  • Explain the concept of visitation and why it's important to spend time with both parents.
  • As a last resort, speak with the other parent about allowing your children to take a break or shorten the length of the visits. 

What If the Custodial Parent Refuses to Allow Visitation?

The custodial parent must comply with the visitation schedule (sometimes called a parenting plan) established by the court. This is true even if the non-custodial parent is not paying their child support. While you can ask the court to enforce the child support order, you must continue to allow the visits as scheduled.

If the custodial parent fears imminent harm, as in suspected abuse or neglect of the child, they should contact the state child welfare agency and their family lawyer.

Every situation is different. For more information about visitation rights and child custody, refer to your state's resources or speak with a qualified attorney.

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Article Sources
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  2. Smith LS. Family-Based Therapy for Parent-Child Reunification. J Clin Psychol. 2016;72(5):498-512. doi:10.1002/jclp.22259