Tag: teenager

Child refuses to exercise shared custody with the stricter parent

Teenager Child (16) refuses to see me after spending a month with my ex. I have 50% custody. What can I do about it? I’m a stricter parent unlike my ex who lets him play computer games all day and night.

Each jurisdiction may have different laws and rules governing a situation like yours, but I will answer your question as it applies to the state of Utah in my experience as a divorce and family lawyer.

Many people believe that at a certain age a minor child has the “right” in Utah to choose with which parent he/she will reside. Not true. Unless a court orders that a minor child has such a right, no such legal right independently exists.

But then there’s life in the real world, which shows us just how far a court’s power to enforce a child custody award order reaches. As a practical matter, if a child is big and strong and strong-willed enough to refuse to comply with the child custody order, there is little a court can do or will do to compel a child to comply.

Thus, trying to enforce a child custody and parent-time award by enlisting the help of the court is usually fruitless.

It’s maddening when a child is too young and immature to understand that living with the irresponsible, excessively permissive, and/or absentee parent is doing that child more harm than good. Unfortunately, unless the child does something or some things bad enough to land him/her in juvenile detention, a court can’t really force the child to live anywhere.

As I stated in answer to a question similar to yours: some courts try to get creative and impose sanctions on a noncompliant child by essentially ordering them “grounded”, but again, if the child chooses not to comply, there is little the court can do or feels is wise to do to the child. I’ve seen a court try to get a child to comply by ordering her barred from participating in her beloved dance classes and driver education courses (so that she can’t get her driver license unless she lives with the court ordered custodial parent) as long as the child refused to live with the court-ordered custodial parent. In that case, however, the child outlasted the court, i.e., she kept living with the noncustodial parent and stopped attending dance and driver’s ed. classes. Then the court found itself in the awkward position of preventing the child from getting exercise and driving to and from her job and other worthwhile, even necessary activities, so the court relented (both in the best interest of the child and to save face). This is a lesson that most courts learn when they try to use the coercive powers of the court against children to enforce child custody orders.

Besides, even if you could force a child to live with you or spend time with you as court-ordered, a child who is forced to do much of anything is only going to resent it and resent you for making him/her do it.

The only viable option you have is to be the most effective parent you can. That doesn’t mean abandoning good parental practices, but it may mean adjusting your approach from a “good” and “reasonable” one to an approach that entails necessary parental care and supervision that fosters love and affection, an approach that still holds children accountable, without estranging them.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277\

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Can a 16-year-old child choose not to have visitation with a parent?

Technically, no. Practicably/pragmatically, yes. 

Technically, a minor child (even a child of 16 years of age) does not have the legal right to choose whether he or she will comply with the parent time “visitation” scheduling orders that a court issues in a divorce or child custody case. But the courts find it difficult to enforce these parent time schedule orders as to the children. In other words, if a child won’t comply with the court’s parent time orders, usually courts do one of two things. Some courts “find” that they don’t have the power to compel a child to comply. This is not true, but by making such a finding that it has no power to coerce and compel a child to comply, the court is able to wash its hands of dealing with the enforcement question. More honestly, other courts find that using the powers of the state, such as arrest and incarceration, to coerce and compel a child to comply with its parent time orders does more harm than good, is more trouble than it’s worth. And it’s not like the parents have any realistic options to enforce parent time orders either. If a parent were to bar the door to his or her home to a child to compel that child to go spend parent time with the other parent, that child could simply dial 911 and report the parent for child abuse and neglect. So in short, if a 16-year-old child doesn’t want to comply with the court’s parent time schedule orders, that child will probably get his or her wish. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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So I want to ask my dad to divorce my mom.

So I want to ask my dad to divorce my mom. She has a troublesome personality, to say. I’m currently 16 and the relationship between not just me and my mother, but also the one between her and my father, is not good in the slightest. Should I ask him? 

Before answering this question myself, I looked at the other answers that have already been provided because I was expecting at least one of them to be along the lines of, “Whether your parents divorce is their choice, and thus none of your business.” And indeed I did. 

It’s a comforting, and thus attempting, position to adopt. But it’s utterly false. 

Given that you are now 16 years old and have, according to you, lived a life in the company of two enemies who happen to be spouses clearly makes your parents’ marriage and the possibility of divorce “your business.” 

Being 16 years old, you are at a unique point in your life where you are starting to think and act more like an adult, but you are still a child. Unless you are unusually mature and wise for your age, there are still many things about adulthood and marriage and family life you don’t completely understand, so you need to respect your parents’ history and experience and thinking on the subject of divorce, if their positions on the subject differ from your own. At the same time, however, given that you have been living in a dysfunctional family for 16 years, your experience, observations, desires, and opinions clearly have weight as well. 

If you determine that you have, in fairness and objectivity, determined in your own mind that your parents would be better off divorced, and you can persuasively articulate why, I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t have not only good reason, but the right as well, to argue the case for divorce to your parents. 

If your parents refused to divorce, and you cannot bear to spend another moment of an acrimony-filled existence at home, another option you might consider would be having your parents permit you to leave their custody to live with grandparents or an aunt or uncle or older sibling who might be willing to take you in, if such an option exists. Depending upon the circumstances, that could be done on an informal basis without having to go through a guardianship proceeding, or it may require court action. 

Finally, and as I mentioned before, if you happen to be mature and wise beyond your years, if you are able to support yourself financially (meaning that you can earn enough income to house, feed, and close yourself without contribution from your parents or the government), you might have the option of petitioning a court to declare you legally emancipated before you turn 18 years of age. 

Either way, if your parents don’t want to divorce and you can stand being enmeshed in their dysfunctional marriage another moment, living away from them could be the right thing for you, if circumstances are conducive to it. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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What happens when the child violates the custody or parent-time order?

What happens when the child violates the custody or parent-time order?

The best examples I can give you of this experience that I have had as a lawyer are as follows:

My guess is that you are referring to teenagers who will not comply with the child custody or visitation orders of the court. In Utah, visitation is now known as “parent-time,” and so I will refer to it as parent-time.

Teenagers are more or less ungovernable in these situations, meaning that while they are subject to the jurisdiction of the court when it comes to enforcement of child custody and parent time orders, very few domestic relations commissioners and judges are willing to use their judicial powers to punish a noncompliant child, even though they certainly could.

Instead, many commissioners and judges frequently (and unfairly) blame the parent with whom the child claims to want to spend more time, finding (without any evidence) that such a parent “unduly influenced” or “coached” the child (even if the allegations are that the child is complaining about mistreatment at the custodial parent’s home or simply a desire to spend more time with the noncustodial parent).

Then the court punishes the parent that the child claims to want to spend more time with. Courts will defend this policy by claiming it discourages parents from manipulating their children’s feelings and from competing for their children’s affections. And there is a measure of truth to this: punishing everyone does tend to discourage the wrongdoers from wrongdoing; however, it also gives innocent and sincere people no reason to stay innocent and sincere, if innocence and sincerity is no protection from punishment. It also never addresses the question of whether the child might actually benefit from a change in the child custody or parent-time schedule.

You might think at this point that the court would want to inquire with the child as to his or her reasons for wanting to change custody or parent time. Virtually none of the commissioners or judges are willing to do this. They give as their reasons the claims that children’s testimony is too easily influenced to be believed and that inquiring with children as to their desires “puts them in the middle” of their parents’ divorce and thus “traumatizes” the children. While there is also an element of truth to these concerns, too often courts fall back on these excuses without trying to assuage the underlying concerns to get to the compelling facts (i.e., the evidence) the children may have to share.

It makes no sense to ignore the experiences, observations, feelings, opinions, and preferences of the child when the child—and his/her best interest—is the focus of the child custody award. There are plenty of inexpensive, feasible, and sufficiently reliable ways to elicit the truth from a child without scarring the child for life.

For example, Utah Code § 30-3-10(1)(e), which provides:

(e) The court may inquire of the children and take into consideration the children’s desires regarding future custody or parent-time schedules, but the expressed desires are not controlling and the court may determine the children’s custody or parent-time otherwise. The desires of a child 14 years of age or older shall be given added weight, but is not the single controlling factor.

A judge interviewing a child costs the litigating parties nothing. A judge interviewing a child is  expeditious and results in the court obtaining information from the child directly, unfiltered, unadulterated by second- (or even third-) hand hearsay accounts. But when I cite this code section as a basis for interviewing a child I get the lamest excuses, including claims from multiple judges that they are “not qualified to interview children.” Really? So judges, who derive their power to do everything they do from what is codified in the law and in court rules, who are clearly acknowledged by a statute to be qualified to interview children, will refuse to interview children by claiming they are not qualified. If that is true, then the judge needs either 1) to get qualified; or 2) to resign from office as unqualified to perform all of his/her duties as a judge, not refuse to do what he or she is authorized to do and that he or she must do when circumstances so dictate.

Another option is for children to be appointed a “guardian ad litem,” meaning that the child is appointed his/her own lawyer to “represent the interests of the child.” ‘Sounds great, right? But my experience with guardians ad litem is that they are by and large at best overworked and thus ineffective, or (as is more often the case) they are incompetent, biased, or too afraid of looking stupid to admit it when their interviews of the children were inconclusive. Oh, and one or both of the parents has to pay for the guardian ad litem (also referred to as a “GAL”). Still, if a skilled, neutral, humble, and affordable guardian ad litem were available, the court should utilize that resource and interview the child, rather than refusing to learn of a child’s experiences and desires on the basis that inquiring with the child might (might!) traumatize him.

Yet another option is for the court to appoint a psychologist or social worker to serve as a custody or parent-time “evaluator” to interview the children and then report to the court. That sounds great too, right? Maybe, were it not for the fact that custody evaluations in Utah are obscenely (there is no other appropriate word to describe it) expensive (we’re talking between $3,000 to $10,000—and if you think you’ll be the “lucky” one who gets a [good] custody evaluation done for a “mere” $3,000, you yourself need a psychologist) and custody evaluators are far, far too often too afraid of being reported to their licensing boards or sued by disgruntled parents to speak their minds. And so, many custody evaluators end up producing an equivocal, please-everyone (and thus a please-no-one) recommendation.

Many (not all) courts don’t refuse to inquire with children because of concern for the children, they refuse to inquire because they don’t want to do it. Adding knowledge of the child’s experiences and desires to the mix make such court’s jobs more complex (i.e., harder) and make it harder for some judges and commissioners to manipulate the facts to suit their personal biases and preferences. And so such courts will, ironically, exert great effort to avoid this kind of hard work.

When I deal with the case of a teenage child who will not comply with the court’s parent time and/or custody orders, I insist that the court get to the root of the problem. If the teenager is just being a spoiled brat, no modification of custody or parent-time is warranted. I can live with that. Any rational and fair-minded person must. No one, however, can knowledgeably or efficaciously get to the root of a problem that concerns a child without–sensitively, but resolutely–involving the child in the investigation, the analysis, and the formulation of a solution.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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