Parenting Time Refusal by a Child: Strategies for the Parent with the Majority of the Parenting Time
A client asks: “My 13 year old daughter never wants to go to her father’s house. She says it is boring and she would rather stay at my house since her friends live nearby. What should I so? What are my legal obligations?”
Pursuant to Section 607.5 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”), 750 ILCS 5/607.5, entitled “abuse of allocated parenting time” if a child refuses to go to the other parent’s house for parenting time, the court is empowered with numerous options to enforce a parenting time schedule. The court can order anything from parenting classes and counseling to the payment of fines, and fees. If the court finds that the failure to comply with the parenting time order was “parenting time abuse” additional penalties are available to the court including suspension of a drivers’ license, sentencing a party to imprisonment, and the imposition of additional fines.
It should be noted that these penalties are implemented rarely and only in egregious circumstances, but it is important to understand that the court can hold a party responsible if they do not- or cannot force a child- to comply with a parenting schedule.
In the event you have a child who is refusing to be with the other parent during that parent’s time, there are several steps you can take to both encourage the child to particiapte and to protect yourself in the event litigation is commenced. You should always consult an attorney about your specific situation, but the below are some general pointers:
First, it is important to keep records of to the efforts you have made facilitate the parenting time schedule. The records should include dates, times, circumstances of the parenting time refusal, your efforts (including any conversations with the child, the other parent), and any consequences imposed on a child for his or her refusal. In maintaining these notes you should be mindful that if your matter goes to court, the other party’s attorney could request- and be entitled- to your notes.
Second, efforts to communicate with the other parent to work together to facilitate the visitation are good for the child and good protection for you if there is subsequent litigation. Keep records of all such efforts and ensure any written communication remains polite and appropriate. If direct communication is challenging, it may also make sense to request mediation and/or a meeting with a therapist or counselor or parenting coach to assist you and the other parent in communicating and strategizing. It is also important that any parenting schedule changes agreed to directly with the other parent or with the a therapist or other professional should be documented in writing as specifically provided for in your agreement.
Third, you may want to consider having your child see a therapist. The therapist can be helpful in working with your child, you, and the other parent to make sure the parenting time can occur as planned and agreed. In this regard, dependent on the terms of the allocation of parental responsibilities, you may be required to consult the other parent before commencing therapy for your child.
Finally, if the parenting time cannot be resolved, you may want to proactively seek a modification of the parenting schedule before other proceedings are commenced. As part of these proceedings, it may also make sense to seek the appointment of an attorney to represent your child in the proceedings as well.
As the implications of failing to effectuate a parenting schedule can be serious, it is necessary to be proactive and prepared in the event any such litigation does arise. Moreover and importantly, it is in a child’s best interests to have parenting time with both parents and to live by a schedule that provides for such time in a comfortable manner.
(These suggestions and strategies are not applicable in situations where parenting time with the other parent is unsafe physically or emotionally for a child. In such cases, an attorney must be immediately contacted and steps taken to protect the child.).
Amanda Clayman is a Partner at Katz & Stefani.