When an Illinois couple divorces, one of the primary concerns of all parties involved is the children’s primary living situation. Many parents choose to share physical custody, requiring children to live part of the time with one parent and part of the time with the other. Still, others choose to assign one parent primary physical custody and allow children to visit the non-custodial parent on weekends and holidays or at other times of their choosing.

While children may take some time to become accustomed to this new living arrangement, most eventually adapt well, visiting the non-custodial parent enthusiastically or without issue. However, in some situations, children may express their wishes to stop visiting the non-custodial parent or even refuse outright. What happens if your child refuses to take part in parental visitation?

Illinois Custody and Visitation Basics

First, it is important to revisit the way the Illinois courts view custody and visitation. When you and your spouse finalized your divorce proceedings—whether you disputed child custody in court or were able to reach an agreement together or via a mediator—Illinois courts issued a custody order and visitation schedule. In either circumstance, the family court judge reviewed your situation and approved the order based on your child’s best interests.

The order designates whether you, your spouse, or both hold physical and legal custody of your children. The order set forth a specific visitation schedule to outline exactly how visitation between the non-custodial parent and children takes place. Both you and your former spouse are legally obligated to follow each portion of your custody order and visitation schedule.

Your Role in Illinois Child Custody and Visitation

After you receive your custody order, you must make your child “reasonably available” for visitation as scheduled. In general, the interpretation of reasonable availability is left up to the parents, but you must do everything in your power to ensure that your child is present for pick-up on the day and time specified in the custody order. In most cases, reasonable availability begins with informing your children that they will attend visitation.

If extenuating circumstances prevent your child from attending visitation, you are responsible for establishing communication with the other parent. For example, if your child is sick or has another obligation, you must communicate the issue to the non-custodial parent as soon as possible. Also, remaining in communication with the other parent regarding alternative arrangements or your efforts to accommodate the original schedule is an effective way to show you have made a good-faith effort to abide by the custody and visitation order.

When Your Child Refuses Visitation in Illinois

While you are required by law to ensure your child is reasonably available for their scheduled custody visit, your actions to cause this to happen will naturally differ depending on your child’s age. For example, if a 3-year-old refuses to visit, a judge would likely determine that you had a responsibility to take charge as a parent and ensure the visitation happened—even if you had to physically place the child in the car. However, a 13-year-old is not only much larger but also much more able to communicate their reasoning for refusing visitation; you are assumed to have much less control over whether a teenager attends visitation.

In general, family courts do not expect you to physically force a resisting child into a vehicle. However, if you do not make a good faith effort to make your child reasonably available for the visit, a judge can enforce the custody order or hold you in contempt of court. For that reason, it is imperative that you maintain consistent contact with the non-custodial parent and thoroughly describe the incident. Doing so not only proves you have made an effort but allows you both to work together to resolve the issue.

How to Handle Your Child’s Refusal

If your child refuses to cooperate with visitation, try to resist forcing the issue. Instead, have a frank conversation and ask why they don’t wish to visit their parent—was there an incident? Did something change within the household that has them not wanting to visit? Or do you have reason to suspect abuse or neglect may be a factor?

Depending on the response, start communication with the other parent; together, you may be able to get to the heart of why your child doesn’t want to see their parent. Be sure to document the incident, as you may need to address the issue in court if the child continues to refuse to comply. In addition, if you believe your child’s welfare is at risk, you will need to express your concerns in court.

Speak With a Bloomington, IL, Family Law Attorney

If your child refuses to participate in parental visitation, the situation can impact everyone involved and may even result in the need to return to court. To ensure you protect your child’s well-being and preserve your parental rights, turn to an experienced Bloomington family law attorney that can provide you with helpful legal counsel. Contact Stange Law Firm at (855) 055-0595 to learn more about your options or request an initial consultation.