You are recently divorced and the primary custodian of your 15-year-old daughter. According to your Judgment of Dissolution, Father has visitation every other weekend with your daughter. However, your daughter refuses to comply with the order and states she will NEVER visit Father on any weekend much less every other weekend. Can you, the custodial parent, be held accountable by the Court for your child’s unwillingness to visit Dad? The answer is, it depends…
According to Coursey v. Superior Court (1987) 194 CA3d 147, 154-156, each case is considered by the Court on an independent factual basis. However, the Coursey case does shed some light on what the likely result would be depending on the age of the unwilling child. The Court opines that a custodial parent can be held in contempt of a visitation order when he or she has sufficient control over the child so as to have the ability to make the child available for visitation. In effect, this means that a parent probably has sufficient control over minor children of “tender years” to compel them to visit the other parent; failure to make such children available for visitation probably would be punishable by contempt. Although “tender years” are usually regarded as age 4 and under, in this case it refers to infancy through pre-teen/teen years.
The Court also stated that as the child approaches pre-teen and certainly teen years, it becomes harder to exert parental control. Thus, if a teenage child refuses to visit with the non-custodial parent, the custodial parent lacks the ability to comply with the order and cannot be held in contempt. In such cases, the non-custodial parent is likely left with no remedy which can be provided by the Court.
If the non-custodial parent does file for contempt and is successful, the custodial parent may be punished by a fine not exceeding $1,000 per count or by imprisonment not exceeding five days per count, or both. There are additional penalties for a contempt of family law orders which state that the court must order the contemnor to perform community service of up to 120 hours, or to be imprisoned for up to 120 hours, for each count of contempt. Additionally, a contemnor who has violated a court order may be ordered to pay attorney’s fees and costs incurred to the party who initiated the contempt proceeding.
So what should you do? If you are a custodial parent, barring any restraining orders or abuse perpetrated by the non-custodial parent, you should encourage a child of any age to engage in visitation with the other parent and to comply with the Court’s orders. If the child refuses, you should make this known immediately to the other parent and let that parent know you encourage the visitation but are unable to exert control. If a battle ensues due to the child’s unwillingness, it may be time to seek the assistance of a family law attorney to protect and preserve your rights and to ensure you are taking the right steps as they relate to the minor child/children, the other parent, and the relevant legal issues.