Divorce and the division of one home into two separate households can be difficult for young children; however, preschool and elementary-aged children have little say in decisions regarding their own lives and are typically compliant when parents enforce the court-ordered custody and visitation agreements. It’s a relatively simple matter to exchange small children, even in the most challenging cases when children react to the disruption with crying or temper tantrums.
But when children become teenagers, parents can no longer carry them kicking and screaming out the door with their bags packed for visiting a non-custodial parent. In this case, are older children allowed a say in their own custody and visitation schedules? Can children refuse visitation if they don’t wish to see the other parent or if they prefer to remain in their own community with their friends and daily activities?
Colorado’s Stance on Children’s Preference in Custody and Visitation Matters
Colorado courts take the stance that children benefit from the involvement and closeness of both parents in their lives. The overriding principle in all matters of child custody is acting in the best interest of the child. A judge considers a child’s wishes when setting the parameters of any custody and visitation schedule, but that’s only one of a number of factors they consider when it falls on them to determine custody schedules when parents are not able to come to mutually agreeable terms themselves with a mediated parenting schedule.
Factors judges typically consider when arranging custody and visitation schedules for children include:
- Physical needs such as breastfeeding
- School and daycare schedules
- Availability of transportation
- Children’s extra-curricular activities
- A child-focused schedule in their best-interests
- Regular and frequent contact with both parents
In some cases, a judge also considers a parent’s ability to provide a safe, wholesome environment free of abuse, neglect, and active addiction. They may also consider the input of child therapists, school counselors, and other professionals involved in a child’s case.
Once a custody and visitation schedule has been set for children of divorced parents it’s the custodial parent’s duty to ensure that children follow the schedule.
Parenting time is NOT considered the child’s choice, however, a judge may begin to consider child preference as early as age 14.
Courts Begin to Consider Child Autonomy at Age 14
While Colorado’s custody laws are clear that there isn’t a single “magic or statutory age” for children to begin deciding matters of custody and visitation, they do begin to more seriously consider a child’s opinion on visitation at age 14, when children typically develop strong community ties and friendships as well as stronger opinions. It also becomes much more challenging for parents to enforce visitation on an unwilling teenager. However, Colorado still considers the child’s best interests to be sustained, committed relationships with both parents and are unlikely to consider changing visitation schedules unless a parent can prove the child suffers emotional impairment or negative developmental impacts when forced to comply.
Once teenagers reach the age of 16-17, courts begin to consider their preferences much more seriously in matters of visitation and custody.
Parents Should Revisit Visitation Schedules in Court If Children Refuse Visitation
A custodial parent may be held in contempt of court if they don’t follow the court-ordered visitation schedule. If a teenage child refuses visitation with a non-custodial parent, one or both parents should petition the court for parenting schedule changes. Courts typically allow changes under the following conditions:
- If both parents agree to the change
- If it’s in the child’s best interest
- If the child is at least 14, but preferably 16-17 years old
- If a custodial parent chooses to voluntarily give up their rights
- If the evidence supports the child’s claim of emotional or physical harm under the current schedule.
- The court may schedule one or more interviews with the child to better understand their preferences and point of view.
Courts recognize the challenge parents face when a teenager refuses to comply with court-ordered visitation. However, missing visitation without revisiting the schedule in court may result in legal problems. It’s important to talk to a Denver child custody attorney about your rights, your co-parent’s rights, and your child’s rights when it comes to visitation.