I Live in Indianapolis, Indiana, I Have a Son at 17 Years Old. I Have Visitation Legal Custody. He Has Him Run Away. What Do I Do?

I am not licensed as an attorney in Indiana, but I will give you my personal opinion (it’s not legal advice) as it applies to the law in the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah):

In my opinion, it’s the “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink” principle at work when children reach that age. Once a child is old enough to “take Mom in a fight,” (or Dad, for that matter), it’s hard for a court to do anything realistic and practicable to enforce the child custody and parent-time orders pertaining to that child. Trying to force a child (who can run away) to live with a parent by bringing the powers of the court to bear upon a child is awkward and tends to cast the courts in a bullying and unflattering light.

The court could order the child “grounded” unless and until the child follows the court’s child custody and parent-time orders. It doesn’t work well. I experienced this in a case of my own where the court ordered that if the child refused to comply with the child custody and parent-time orders—and reside with her father—then if the child did not come straight home to her mother’s home after school (and not hang out with friends), if she tried to go to driver’s education, and if she tried to go to her dance classes after school then her mother would be held in contempt of court.

The court figured that the child would capitulate and move back in with Dad quickly, if living with Mom meant that the child could not hang out with friends, could not learn to drive, and could not participate in her dance classes that she loved. The court figured wrong. The child preferred to be deprived of hanging out with friends, driver’s ed, and dance class to residing with Dad. Eventually, the court realized it was doing the child more harm than good and the court (to its humble credit) blinked first and removed the restrictions on the child.

It’s a weird legal scenario: the snubbed parent is essentially powerless to do anything coercive to make a child live where that child refuses to live. Why? One, the parent can’t use force, or he/she risks being charged with child abuse. Two, a child can easily refuse to live with (or visit) with a parent as court ordered by simply living with his/her other parent, if that parent welcomes the child (and that parent usually will, either out of spite for the other parent or out of concern for the child (i.e., “better that the child lives with me than runs away where neither parent knows where the child is and with whom the child may be associating).

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

Eric Johnson’s answer to I live in Indianapolis, Indiana, I have a son at 17 years old. I have visitation legal custody. He has him run away. What do I do? – Quora

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