One of the increasingly worst kept secrets in Utah divorce and child custody law is the fact that after a certain age, minor children are essentially ungovernable when it comes to enforcing child custody and parent time orders.
I researched this subject. An argument can easily be made that children who do not comply with child custody and parent time orders can be held in contempt of court and sanction for contempt. While I’ve never seen a judge hold the child in contempt and sanction a child for contempt, I have seen several judges try to enforce their custody and parent time orders by trying to coerce the parents to coerce the children into complying. I’ve never seen it work.
Once a child is old enough to take mom or dad in a fight, or at least old enough to put up enough of a fight to look or get beaten up by a parent who tries to manhandle his son or daughter out of the house and into the car to go over to the other parent’s home, it’s effectively impossible to make a child comply with custody and parent to them orders he or she doesn’t want to follow.
We all know about those parents who manipulate their kids and alienate them from the other parent to the point that the children are duped into believing they don’t want to love and spend time with the other parent. When those children refuse to exercise shared custody and parent time as court ordered, it’s tragic for parent and child alike, but again, effectively nothing can be done to solve this problem. You can lead the child to counseling and therapy, but you can’t make him drink. I understand why parents will try to resort to counseling and/or therapy to overcome the effects of parental alienation, but I rarely see it work. If you wonder why courts order it so often, it’s because, in my opinion, it makes them feel like they’ve done something in response, as opposed to throwing up their hands and admitting 1) there’s really nothing they can do; and 2) the only reason they’re really ordering counseling and therapy is so they don’t look powerless to affect any beneficial change.
When a child will not voluntarily comply with custody and parent time orders, there is effectively nothing apparent can do on his or her own to enforce compliance, and little or nothing that a court order will do to enforce compliance.
Oddly enough, enforcement of child custody and parent time orders is a strange aspect of the legal system where the courts’ power is in essence illusory. In Utah, there are no laws on the books that I’m aware of that allow a court to jail a child for noncompliance with custody and parent time orders, no laws that empower a court to place a child in juvenile detention for noncompliance with custody and parent time orders (that is to say, as long as the child doesn’t run away from home, but just refuses to go to the other parent’s house and stays with one parent instead). I can’t find anything that prevents a court from finding a child for non-compliance, but the only way a fine could motivate a noncompliant child is if the child had any money to lose, and many don’t, and those who do probably count on the parent with whom the noncompliant child stays to “bail them out,” so to speak. Besides, the idea of finding a child is largely academic because I don’t think any court in Utah has the guts to find a child out of fear of looking bad in the press for doing so.
I know of one commissioner who tried to enforce compliance with child custody and parent time by ordering the child grounded until she complied. Candidly, it was a good try on the part of the commissioner. He ordered that the child could not associate with friends after school, could not complete drivers education, and could not participate in extracurricular activities, unless and until she complied with the court’s child custody and parent time orders. Somewhat comically, however, the grounded child called the commissioner’s bluff, and complied with the grounding order until the commissioner felt he was doing the child more harm than good by keeping her grounded. The commissioner ended up lifting the restrictions and conceding that if the child refused to comply with the child custody and parent time orders, grounding her in an effort to coerce her into complying was doing her more harm than good.
The bottom line: at this point in time in the state of Utah, if a child refuses to comply with the child custody and parent time orders, and the court is convinced that a parent is not pulling the child strings, that child basically gets to live wherever he or she wants and can spend time with the other parent as much or as little as he or she wants.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277