03.04.2024 Newsletters Doerner

Can a Child Refuse Visitation?


Since one in every four children only lives with one parent, visitation issues are fairly common. If your child doesn’t want to see your co-parent, it can be a stressful experience to try and convince them.

But can a child refuse visitation? Can you allow it?  Read on to learn.

The Child’s Best Interests

Oklahoma courts determine custody agreements based on the child’s best interests. In fact, this legal requirement is the #1 criterion that courts consider.

The courts do this by examining evidence of how parents treat them and take care of their children. The children’s physical, emotional, and moral well-being are all considerations.

Importantly, many Oklahoma parents are of the mistaken impression that at the age of 12, a child gets to choose where they live.  This is based on a misunderstanding of Title 43, Section 113 of the Oklahoma Statutes, which provides that during custody litigation, the court may determine whether the best interests of a child will be served by allowing the child to express a preference regarding legal and physical custody.  There is a rebuttable presumption that a child of the age of twelve (12) or older is of sufficient age to form an intelligent preference.  

While Oklahoma law does not paint such a broad stroke of allowing a child’s preference to determine the parent’s custody schedule, as a practical matter, once children reach their teenage years, most courts will consider the child’s preference, though a child’s desires are not the only factor courts consider when determining what custodial arrangement is in their best interests. 

Can a Child Refuse Visitation?

Some children may be unhappy with the custody arrangement and refuse to visit with one parent.

There are several reasons that a child might do this, a core one being that the child does not like the other parent’s house or rules. They also may not get along with the other parent’s new partner or members of that household. Perhaps they simply don’t want to leave their friends for weekends or summertime.  However, a child may refuse visitation if they believe they are being treated unfairly, too harshly, or are legitimately being abused by the other parent.

Legally, the child does not have the right to refuse court-ordered visitation.  Of course, tell that to the parent of any teenager.  Sometimes the law and the practicalities of parenthood do not always sync. When a child refuses to visit the other parent, several Oklahoma laws may be invoked, but the legality of such a circumstance can be murky and complicated:

  • For instance, Title 43, Section 111.3 provides that all custody orders must provide language stating that the custodial parent has a duty to facilitate visitation of the child with the noncustodial parent.  If the noncustodial parent believes their visitation rights have been denied or interfered with by the custodial parent, they can file a motion to enforce visitation, which will be set for a hearing within 21 days.  The prevailing party shall be granted their reasonable attorneys’ fees mediation costs, and court costs.
  • Section 111.3 invokes several questions, such as: “What does the duty to facilitate mean if the child refuses to go see the other parent? and: “If my child refuses to visit the other parent, have I ‘denied’ or ‘interfered’ with the other parent’s visitation?  There is case law in Oklahoma that discusses the meaning of these words and phrases, which will need to be applied to each individual circumstance. 
  • On the other side of the coin from Section 111.3 is Title 43, Section 111.4, which provides that a “parent who, in good faith and with a reasonable belief supported by act, determines that a child of that parent is the victim of child abuse or neglect, or suffers from the effects of domestic violence, may take necessary actions to protect the child, including refusing to permit visitation.”  This statute, among other things, may be invoked when a child refuses to visit the other parent because of allegedly abusive actions that the parent has taken toward the child.

Oftentimes Sections 111.3 and 111.4 go hand-in-hand.  A parent who refuses visitation based on alleged abuse can almost certainly expect a motion to enforce visitation to be filed.  A parent who is complaining that their child is refusing visitation oftentimes blames the other parent for not encouraging the child to visit, or in more extreme cases, accuses the other parent of alienating the child.  Added to the difficulty in these situations is the child’s age and maturity level.  Courts will frequently expect a custody order to be followed closely with young children, but as a practical matter, it is sometimes difficult to enforce a custody order with a headstrong teenager.  Add to this that it may be significantly easier to determine why an older child refuses to visit, while younger children may be unable to express their concerns, whether or not abuse is a possibility.

What Happens if a Child Refuses?

Assuming a circumstance where abuse is not taking place, a child may refuse to visit the other parent despite your best efforts.

While family courts don’t expect you to physically wrestle your child into a car, if legal action is ultimately taken by the parent who is not seeing the child, it is important that the parent exercising physical custody of the child can show the Court that they have made a good-faith effort to get them to the non-custodial parent, or otherwise has good reason for not facilitating visitation.

What Should You Do When a Child Refuses?

If your child refuses visitation, talk to them about the reasons. If it’s something like them not wanting to leave their friends or disliking the other parent’s rules, reiterate the other parent’s visitation rights. Try to discuss ways that your child can be happier while away.  And importantly, discuss these issues with the other parent.  A child is more likely to feel comfortable moving between both parent’s homes when they feel as though their parents are on the same page and are not “at each other’s throats.”

In some cases, the child may tell you about mistreatment or abuse taking place while in the other parent’s care.  If you can prove that this is true, the custody arrangement may need to be modified, and sometimes on an expeditious basis. An attorney can help you in all facets of these situations, from presenting your case to the court, to helping find solutions to remedy the situation for the sake of your child.

Regardless of your child’s reason for refusing visitation, it is important to document the incident. If the child continues refusing visitation, you will want to have documentation prepared to show that you are not the reason for your child refusing to visit their other parent.  Hiring a lawyer before any legal action ensues is critical if your child refuses to comply.

More About Oklahoma Visitation Law

So, can a child refuse visitation? The answer, unfortunately, is “it’s complicated and it depends on the situation.”

A lawyer with experience in custody issues can help you better understand Oklahoma law as well as provide practical advice in sensitive situations like this. Contact us to learn how you can come to an agreeable arrangement for all parties including your child.