Many parents know that Georgia law allows a child who is at least 14 years of age to choose the parent with whom he or she wants to live. Does that election right extend to permit the teen to choose not to visit with the non-custodial parent? It does, but the child’s election must be done under the supervision of the court.
It has long been the goal of courts to assure that children of all ages have meaningful contact with both parents. Only under exceptional circumstances should the right or privilege of parenting time be denied. What that means is that a parent who allows his or her teen to elect not to visit the other parent in violation of a parenting plan order risks being held in contempt.
What then does a parent do to fulfill the desires of a child who is 14 years old or older that says he or she does not want to visit the other parent? Due to a legitimate concern that the custodial parent will encourage the child not to visit the other parent to vent his or her spite by pressuring, directly or indirectly, the child to make such an election. Therefore, court supervision is required to protect the child and the noncustodial parent against any coercion by the custodial parent.
How to Legally Deal with a Concern Regarding Visitation
To avoid the risk of being held in willful contempt of a court order, the custodial parent must bring a legal action to modify the parenting plan. That action must be brought in the county in which the non-custodial parent resides. Prior to undergoing the expense and stress of such an action, however, perhaps the best place to start is with a therapist. Why does the child not wish to visit the other parent? Can reunification therapy help mend the relationship? If the other parent is a fit and proper parent, therapy should be explored as an initial option.
Chances are that the court will order such therapy before making a final decision. If there are legitimate reasons why the child does not want to visit the other parent, perhaps the other parent can improve his or her behavior so that the child does want to visit. The courts do recognize that visitation by force and intimidation is not in the child’s best interest.
Considering the Best Interest of the Child
A parent cannot maintain a legal action to modify visitation if visitation rights are withheld in violation of a custody order. It is therefore critical that the parenting plan is followed until it is modified by court order. The court must take into consideration the wishes of the child who is 14 or older but must also consider the best interests of the child. Material changes in the amount of contact with a parent affect a child’s best interests regardless of whether that parent is the custodial or non-custodial parent. The court will consider the best interests of the child, and not the best interests of the non-custodial parent.
Develop a Visitation Plan that Includes Everyone
A solution that is often employed to prevent a complete cessation of a non-custodial parent’s contact with the child is to enter a parenting plan that allows the child who is 14 or older to arrange mutually convenient times to visit the other parent. That arrangement recognizes that teens have busy lives with friends, school, and extra-curricular commitments, but that a relationship with both parents is still important.
The best ways to avoid problems when your teen does not want to visit the other parent is to try therapy if appropriate, and, if not, to require the visitation in the court order to continue until you obtain a court order that modifies the parenting plan.
Retain Experienced Legal Representation through Richardson Bloom & Lines
If your child does not want to visit the other parent, protect both yourself and your child by following the proper legal procedures. The family law attorneys at Richardson Bloom & Lines can help guide you through the process. As Atlanta child custody attorneys, our legal team will make sure you abide by the law while ensuring what is best for you and your family.