Should a parent withhold a child from the other parent?

There are very few circumstances where it would be appropriate (or right) for a parent to withhold a child from the other parent. In most cases, the answer to this question would be no.


In the United States, the rights of parents are governed primarily by the laws of the individual states. The right of each parent can depend upon the circumstances of the child’s birth. For example, parents who are married will have similar legal rights to the child. Parents who are not married at the time of birth may not have the same legal rights to the child. This is especially the case if both parents are not listed on the birth certificate.

In any event, if a parent has established legal rights to the child, that parent has a legally enforceable right to have access to the child.

How this plays out will vary from state to state. In life, we know that not all relationships are perfect. We know that, in some cases, both parents do not want to be a part of the child’s life.

But, let’s say we have a situation where both parents want to see the child. In this case, both parents have legal rights to the child. Then, one of these parents actively prevents the other parent from having a relationship with the child. The parent doing the preventing might find him or herself in the hot seat.

States vary

The laws, courts, and judges of each state vary on parenting interference. But essentially, when one parent goes out of his or her way to cut out the other parent, this is inappropriate interference. In some states, depending on the behavior, it could be grounds for the court to take the child from the interfering parent and give the child primarily to the other parent. Worst case, in some instances, it could be grounds for removal of the child into foster care.

In limited circumstances, a parent who takes drastic steps to prevent the other parent from seeing the child could even face criminal prosecution. (Think custodial interference, or kidnapping, depending upon what the parent had done).

Is it ever okay to withhold a child?

This is a sensitive topic, and nothing here you read should be construed as legal advice. In every case, if you believe that a situation exists where you want to keep your child from seeing the other parent, you should consult with an experienced attorney about the potential repercussions discussed above.

In every case, you should first look to any parenting plan or court order that exists governing the relationship of the parties to the child. If there an order in place that says that you can keep the child back from going with the other parent?

If there is no court order granting the other party any right or parenting time/visitation with the child, you won’t have to struggle as much with potential repercussions. In most cases, if parents don’t have a court order and can’t get along about parenting time, it is generally best for one or both of the parents to start a proceeding to get a parenting plan in place. That way each parent knows the expectations. If one parent doesn’t believe that the other parent should have any contact, he or she can make that case to the judge, and let the judge make the call.

Why don’t you want her to go?

Next, take a close look at the reasons for why you want to withhold the child. Is this a situation where the child has been harmed, or is in imminent danger of being harmed? If there is a court order in place and you are preparing to go against the order, you better well be darn ready to justify yourself to a judge. It has to be a pretty darn good reason. Physical harm, imminent danger, and severe neglect would probably pass muster.

If the threat isn’t imminent, you would be better off filing a case to change the parenting time than flaunting the court’s decisions.

What if the child doesn’t want to go to parenting time?

This is a traumatic situation for everyone involved. As a parent, you want to support your children and be there for them. But you can’t let a child decide whether or not they will go to parenting time. At least, not while the child is young. But this can be really horrible. There’s very little more awful than wrapping your arms around a sobbing child who doesn’t want to go with the other parent.

If your state has guidance about this, I’d rely upon it. But in most cases, the child doesn’t have a say in where she lives or with you.

As a parent, it is your job to do as much as you can to help the child go to her parenting time with the other parent. If you encourage the child to stay home, or tell her that she doesn’t have to go, the court might conclude that you are actually intentionally interfering in the other’s parent’s relationship with the child.

You have to work through it and find a way to make parenting time work, even if it breaks your heart.

What if the child is too ill to go to see her dad?

I’d look to the parenting time agreement first. If it is silent, I would then talk to the other parent about parenting time, and explain that the child is ill. Then I’d try to work out some alternative parenting time so that the other parent can still see her.

What if I don’t like the other parent, or I’m mad at them for something they did?

Unless you can show that whatever happened is related somehow to the child and the child’s best interests, you don’t want to be standing in front of a judge on grounds like these. A lot of post-separation relationships are antagonistic. Unfortunately, this is stressful for everyone, and this tends to harm the child.

Either way, being angry or annoyed isn’t grounds for keeping the child from attending parenting time.

Do you have experience with this?

Tell us about your stories in the comments. How did you work through a situation where a child didn’t want to go with the other parent? Or where you believed that circumstances warranted keeping the other parent from your child?

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