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Child Visitation

Watching your child leave for a visitation with the other parent can be gut-wrenching, especially if your child is acting like she doesn’t want to leave you. However, children can get upset at a visitation hand-off for many reasons. While you should always take your child’s safety and welfare seriously, it’s also important that you don’t act out of raw emotion and do something that could get you in a lot of trouble with the court.

Rather than trying to prevent the child from going with the other parent, the right way to address a serious concern is to work with an attorney and file a petition to modify your child custody order. However, before you take that step, it’s important to assess your child’s situation carefully. In this article, we’ll provide some guidelines you can use to do that.

Don’t Automatically Assume Your Child Is in Danger with Your Ex

It’s important to remember that the younger your child is, the fewer tools they have to express and explain their feelings. Depending on their age and level of development, your child may cry because they are anxious, afraid, sad, uncertain, or just tired and hungry. While it can be tempting to assume that your child gets upset at a visitation handoff because they don’t like your ex (especially if that’s how you feel), that’s rarely a fair assumption. Frequently, both parents will make claims that the child is upset when returning to the other parent. Your child might be upset for a variety of other reasons, including the ones listed below.

RELATED ARTICLE: Can I Prevent My Spouse From Seeing the Children During a Divorce?

They’re Mimicking Subtle Cues That You’re Upset

Even if you’re not openly badmouthing your ex, it’s easy to accidentally voice your unhappiness with a visitation schedule or some other aspect of your relationship with them. For example, think about the emotional impact of these statements and gestures:

  • “I don’t want you to go, but your mom says you have to.”
  • “I’ll miss you so much! I’ll be sad all weekend without you.”
  • “I’m so glad you’re home! I can’t stand being away from you.”
  • You refuse to leave the car or make eye contact with your ex during the hand-off.
  • You’re tearful or tense every time you drop your child off.
  • You cry in relief when your child returns home.

Children are great observers, but they don’t have the sophistication to understand the practical aspects of divorce, which means they’ll look to you for guidance. When you seem sad, anxious, or hurt at a visitation hand-off, they may pick up on your emotional state and assume that they’re not safe with the other parent or that you’re upset with them for leaving.

They’re Trying to Validate Your Importance

Sometimes, children will feign sadness to make you feel better. They might know you feel sad or conflicted about their time with their other parent. Because of this, they might feel uncomfortable happily running to their other parent and think that you’ll feel better if they seem sad to leave you.

Change Is Difficult for Kids

Changes and transitions can be hard for children regardless of their age. Think about how difficult it was for you to switch schools or move to a new neighborhood as a child. No matter how positive your child’s time is with their other parent, the process of leaving you and your home might bring about anxiety.

They’d Rather Do Something Else

As children age, their priorities shift. Rather than spend time with their parents, they may prefer to hang out with friends. They may also increasingly want to avoid chores and other family obligations, and they may resent it when those obligations cause them to miss out on something that they’d prefer to do. If a visitation schedule conflicts with a child’s social or extracurricular schedule, either parent can experience pushback from the child.

Assess Your Child’s Unhappiness With Help From a Professional

When your child is resisting visitation, do your best to assess the situation impartially. In most cases, you need to encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent, even if it’s difficult for you to do so. Try not to get into discussions about the other parent that may paint the other parent in a negative light because of your own view. Instead, help make the transition positive and be encouraging.

RELATED ARTICLE: 7 Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Child Custody Case

If you need help with this process, consult a trained counselor or a child custody lawyer. A professional can help you identify the core issues your child is having with visitation and work with you to build a comprehensive plan that protects your child’s emotional and physical health.

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If You Have Real Concerns About Your Child’s Safety, Contact a Custody Lawyer Immediately

Your child’s safety is your top priority, and you have legal options if you genuinely believe that visitation with the other parent poses a threat to your child’s safety and well-being. First, if you believe your child is in imminent danger, you should call 911 and inform the authorities.

After that, contact a child custody lawyer. A lawyer can work with you to quickly create an emergency response plan. This plan might involve a protective order against an abusive parent, a temporary modification in the visitation schedule, or other protections for your child.

What Should I Do If My Ex Is Interfering With My Visitation Rights?

North Carolina law recognizes that children typically benefit from having meaningful relationships with both parents and establishes many legal protections for both parents’ custody rights. If you believe that your ex is interfering with your visitation rights or attempting to damage your relationship with your child, contact a child custody lawyer immediately. If the other parent has violated the court’s child custody order, it can lead to civil or criminal contempt of court charges, and it also might merit a change to your existing parenting plan or child custody order.

You Can Modify the Visitation Schedule if There’s Been a Significant Change in Your Family’s Circumstances

As your child’s needs change, so can your visitation schedule. If it looks like your child has outgrown their existing child custody plan, or if your family’s circumstances have changed, it’s time to consult an experienced family law attorney.

RELATED ARTICLE: Use These 5 Tips to Make a Parenting Plan That Works

Sometimes, a lawyer can help you negotiate a new parenting plan with your ex outside of court. However, if this doesn’t work or isn’t appropriate due to your circumstances, your lawyer can help you file a petition to modify visitation.

Myers Law Firm: Child Custody Lawyers for Parents in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County

Myers Law Firm is one of Charlotte’s leading family law and child custody firms. If you need help with a child custody issue, contact us to schedule your initial consultation. We’ll listen to your story and help you understand your legal options. To request your consultation today, simply complete our online form or call us at (888) 376-2889.


Definitions, Article 1, Chapter 50, N.C. General Statutes. § 50-16.1A. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/BySection/Chapter_50/GS_50-16.1A.pdf

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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