Parenting is a challenge. This is particularly true for teenagers. Parents often struggle with helping to guide a teenager to develop while still allowing him or her the appropriate amount of independence. Divorce and custody disputes can only complicate this struggle. A common scenario that arises in these cases is when a teenager refuses to attend court-ordered visitation with the non-custodial parent. This is especially challenging because the custodial parent will obviously be sensitive to wanting to comply with the court-ordered custody order while still recognizing a teenager’s reasonable preference. After all, a child’s reasonable preference is a factor when creating a child support order, but what if the child’s preference changes after there is already a court order entered? Does the court need to take the preference into consideration when the children are completely refusing to visit? This was an issue that recently faced a New Jersey Court.
In S.L.R. v. M.J.P., the court was confronted with the issue of whether a family court can ignore a teenager’s refusal to attend visitation with the non-custodial parent. There, the parties were divorced in 2002 and the mother was named the custodial parent. In 2013, the children were seventeen and thirteen years old, respectively. The attorney for the mother sent a letter to the father informing him the children were angry and upset with him and would no longer be attending visitation. The father then filed a motion to enforce the visitation provisions of their custody order. At the trial level, the mother asked for the judge to speak with the children in chambers to hear their preferences. The judge denied the mother’s request, stating it was no appropriate for the children to be put in the middle of the dispute. The judge also granted the father’s request to force the children to attend visits. The appellate court disagreed that this was the correct conclusion. The court determined that the trial court made the wrong decision when it refused to consider the issues of fact raised by allegations raised by the mother concerning the father’s inappropriate behavior with the children. The appellate court sent the case back to the trial court with orders to determine whether those issues of fact constituted a material and substantial change such that it was appropriate to curtail the father’s visitation.
If your children are refusing to visit, you need to talk about the case with an experienced attorney. We have experience in helping our clients with all types of custody issues. Call us today at (732) 529-6937 to talk about your children.