Parenting Time & Decision Making

Getting Kids to Comply with Court Orders: Parents Must Take Active Steps

Uncooperative Child

Getting Kids to Comply with Court Orders: Parents Must Take Active Steps

In a blog a little while ago How Far Must Parents Go, to Ensure a Kid Complies with a Court Order?, I discussed the obligation on parents to ensure, to the best of their ability, that a child complies with a custody or access order. Not only does this accord with our general sense of justice, but in some circumstances, if an order is breached because a child is uncooperative, his or her parent can even be found in contempt of court.

But as custodial parents will attest, the practical task of ensuring that kids comply with a court-ordered access/visitation schedule can seem impossible, particularly when the child is reluctant, resistant, or downright defiant. Forcing an unwilling child to participate only engenders bad feelings on the part of both parents, not to mention the child him or herself.

Still, Canadian family law principles make it clear that a parent cannot simply leave participation and compliance with custody and access orders up to the child; courts have repeatedly stated that to do so amounts to “an abdication of parental responsibility” and more importantly amounts to a shortfall in the parent’s positive obligation under the court-imposed order.

Over the years, various courts have expanded on this general principle, providing a list of the concrete steps that parents must take in order to fulfill their responsibility to coax an uncooperative child to comply with a custody or access order.

Here are the points to know:

• Although courts do recognize that it may be increasingly difficult, a parent’s obligation to compel a child to comply does not diminish as the child gets older.

• A parent must go beyond simply “accommodating” access (i.e. making the child available and encouraging him or her to comply); rather, the parent must require the child to participate, and must actively facilitate that participation.

• A parent must take concrete measures to apply normal parental authority to have the child comply. In assessing whether those measures are sufficient, the court will consider whether the parent:

o Engaged in a discussion with the child to determine why he or she is refusing to go with the other parent;

o Communicated with the other parent about the child’s resistance, and how to overcome it;

o Offered the child an incentive to cooperate; and

o Stated clear disciplinary consequences for the child, if he or she continues to refuse to comply.

The obligations, steps, and responsive measures will vary with each case, and will also depend on the child’s age and emotional condition.

There are many cases that discuss these principles. See for example:

Geremia v. Harb, 2007 CanLII 30750 (ON SC)

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.