The Right Way to Handle Concerns About Court-Ordered Visitation

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Courts assign visitation for the purpose of encouraging non-custodial parents to maintain regular contact with their children. However, what looks reasonable on paper doesn't always work in real time, leaving many parents wondering, "Can I refuse to send my kids for court-ordered visitation?" 

For example:

  • Sherry complains that her kids spend more time with her ex's new girlfriend during visits than with their father
  • Marc's kids become so anxious about visits that they can't sleep for days before and after, crying and telling him that they don't want to go
  • Janelle fears for her kids' safety when she sends them for visits because of her ex's history of domestic violence and alcohol abuse

These are just a few examples of the challenges single parents face in trying to follow court orders while also doing what's best for their kids.

From the perspective of the courts, visitation orders ensure that both parents spend time with their children. In general, courts tend to favor arrangements where children maintain a bond with both parents, even when they reside primarily with one or the other.

However, there are some limited instances where a parent can seek to revoke or limit the other parent’s visitation privileges. In such cases, you would need to demonstrate that visitation poses a threat to your children. Simply not liking how the other parent spends his or her visitation time is not considered a legitimate reason to revoke a parent's right to visitation.

Acceptable Visitation Refusal 

A parent who believes that his or her children are in imminent danger can refuse visitation. For example, if you have reason to believe that your ex is physically or sexually abusing your children, it would be prudent not to send them. 

In some states, a parent can refuse visitation if the other parent's living arrangements are considered dangerous, such as living in a crime-ridden neighborhood. In addition, if your child refuses visitation, you are not required to force him or her to visit.

What Happens If You Refuse to Send Your Kids for a Visit?

If you believe your children are in imminent danger, you should not send them for the visit. However, if there is a court-ordered custody arrangement already in place, you could be held in contempt of court. Consider the weight of your safety concerns versus the threat that you'll be held in contempt and make your decision accordingly. If the danger is real, the right decision will be obvious and you'll know what to do. 

However, you should also consider whether your concerns are more like preferences. For example, you may prefer that your children go to bed at 8:00 p.m. every night. And in general, getting a good night's sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle. But staying up until 10:00 or 11:00 doesn't mean that your children are in harm's way. 

What You Should Do After Refusing to Send Your Kids on a Visit

If you have a decent relationship with your ex and your concern is something he or she can rectify, try talking about the issue. For example, if your concern is over the proper use of child car seats, ask him or her to have the car seats inspected. Most police departments will do that for free. Letting your ex know upfront what he or she can do to alleviate your concerns could get your family's visitation schedule back on track.

If you don't feel that you can speak openly with your ex about an issue, or it wouldn't be safe to do so, you should formally ask the court to modify your existing child custody agreement. Document your concerns ahead of time and share them with the judge. If applicable, provide evidence to support your claim, as well.

The judge will either modify the visitation schedule or leave it intact. If the judge feels that visitation should be modified, he or she can order a number of corrective actions, such as making visitation contingent on the non-custodial parent moving to a safer neighborhood or attending drug and alcohol counseling. In cases where there are allegations of abuse, the judge may order that visitation be supervised by a social worker or another responsible individual.

If you and the other parent do not have a court-ordered visitation schedule currently in place, this would be a good time to go to court and create a formal child custody arrangement. At the hearing, you can share your concerns and explain to the judge why you believe visitation would pose a threat to your children.

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