Court-ordered visitation is not optional. Just like a child does not get to decide to not go to school, a child does not get to decide to not go to court-ordered visitation.
However, the child is not the one who will be held in contempt and subject to fines or time in jail. The custodial parent is in the position of ensuring that the visitation takes place. If he or she does not ensure the visitation takes place, the visiting parent might file for a citation of contempt. If the court finds the custodial parent in contempt, he or she could be required to pay a fine or even spend time in jail.
If your child does not want to visit, it is important to find out why. Are you saying or doing things that cause the child to be angry or disgusted with the visiting parent or to “choose sides” to show loyalty to you? It could be something as innocent as the child overhearing you talk to others about your ex. It is possible for a child to go out of his or her way to eavesdrop on the parents to find out what is going on. They are affected by what they hear. Your opinion might influence them even if you tried to prevent them from learning how you feel about your ex.
Of course, it is also possible that the refusal to visit results from real problems during visitation such as your ex badmouthing you in front of the child or pressuring the child for information about you. There could even be problems that endanger the child. If that is the case, the custodial parent should immediately consult with an attorney to discuss options such as petitioning the court to change visitation.
One thing to keep in mind: young children often put up a fuss when transitioning from one parent to the other parent just like toddlers often put up a fuss when a parent is leaving the child with a sitter. Crying, screaming or otherwise fussing during visitation transfers is perfectly normal for young children and does not mean there is a genuine problem with visitation.
For an older child, the problem could be that the child feels overwhelmed by his or her school and extracurricular activities. Also, as children become teenagers, they not only have more and more things to do, it is natural for the dependence upon (and therefore their desire to visit) the visiting parent to decline.
If you are able, talk to the other parent about the problem. Focus on the child’s words and behavior. Avoid stating an interpretation of the child’s words or behavior. For example, if the child says, “I don’t want to go,” simply tell your ex that the child said he or she does not want to go. Do not as “what is wrong at your home?” or “what have you done to upset the child?” If the problem persists, counseling for the child or for the child with the visiting parent, may be useful.
This is a complicated topic. If you have questions or doubts about your child’s refusal to visit the other parent, talk to an attorney for options and advice about the best course of action.