If you are newly divorced or simply contemplating filing for divorce, one potential problem that you might encounter is that the kids don’t want to visit with your ex — or even with you.

This can naturally be quite distressing for the parent with whom the kids are resisting spending time. What’s a parent to do in these circumstances?

It depends

If your custody matters have yet to be adjudicated, i.e., there are currently no temporary or permanent custody or visitation orders in place, there is little that you can do to force a child to visit their other parent. This is especially true of older children.

But having no custody order in place also gives you few legal teeth to refuse the visit with the other parent. Contacting the police will get you this stock reply: “That’s a civil matter.” With no court order to enforce, the police cannot get involved unless there are some illegal actions taking place, e.g., an intoxicated parent attempting to drive with the kids in the car.

When you have a court order

If you and your ex have already gone in front of a judge regarding custody and visitation, there will likely be at least a temporary order governing custody of and visitation with the kids. Ignore that at your peril, as you could face contempt of court charges.

But there is a caveat — if you believe that forcing your minor children to go off with their other parent could jeopardize their well-being or lives, you have the obligation to stand up and protect your kids from danger.

What this doesn’t mean

Suppose that your 9- and 10-year-old girls don’t want to go with their dad because his new girlfriend has a 12-year-old daughter who teases them and won’t allow them to play in her room. While this may be an uncomfortable situation for the kids that could potentially be alleviated with some creative visitation scheduling (the kids going to their Dad’s when the girlfriend’s daughter is with her own father, for example), it will not likely rise to the level of a safety concern.

That would change, however, if the other child were physically or sexually abusing your girls. In such a case, you would be within your legal rights to deny visitation and to return to court for a custody modification

Talk to your kids — and your ex

If your children suddenly refuse to visit with their other parent, it’s time for a talk. Sit down with the kids and discuss their concerns. Really listen to what they say. Are they just unhappy with the turn of events, i.e., the pending divorce and their anger at your ex, or do they have valid reasons for avoiding visitation time with their mom or dad?

Maybe they have witnessed drug use or domestic violence in the home or feel unsafe in the new house or even the neighborhood. Regardless, as their parent, you need to get to the bottom of their refusal.

Then, have a frank discussion with your children’s other parent. Without slinging blame, explain to your ex that the kids are afraid to visit right now and you will be returning to court to address the matter.

Keep your lawyer in the loop

Your Sarasota family law attorney cannot provide the most effective legal counsel without being apprised of the details of your situation. That allows him or her to devise the best strategy to address your children’s fears and keep them safe.