Teenagers and weekend visitation

Posted Sunday, October 4th, 2020 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Child Custody, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to General Public

For parents who have a minority of custodial time, especially those whose school-year time tends to be concentrated on weekends, the teenage years create new tensions that can be finessed but not resolved. Failure to understand and acknowledge this tension can actually lead to larger problems in the parent-teenager relationship.

Much of this tension results from the culture’s failure to properly understand what “physical custody” actually means. While the culture believes it means the right to have the child in one’s physical possession, it actually means the right control the child’s physical location. An easy way to understand this distinction is to consider what happens when a parent with physical custody allows a child to spend time with grandparents. That parent has not lost physical custody in doing so because that parent retains the right to retrieve the child. To have physical custody does not require having the child in one’s physical possession.

When children are very young the circumstances when physical custody differs from physical possession are almost always of the parent’s choosing. It is the parent, not the two year old, who decides when that child spends time with the grandparents. Even when the child gets a bit older and more autonomous, the child’s desire to spend custodial time away from parents is likely to be limited. A six year old may occasionally spend time at a friend’s house or do a sleepover but will mainly spend the weekend with the “non custodial” parent.

However a teenager, especially a teenager in high school, will have an agenda that does not involve spending much time with parents. For very appropriate developmental reasons, high school age children are more invested in peer relationships than parenting relationships. Thus, much of their free time is spent with peers. For a parent whose time with the child is already limited, allowing that child to spend much of the weekend with peers can be disappointing–as their time with the child is already limited.

Yet, assuming the teenager’s peer relationships are healthy, allowing that teen to spend part of the weekend with peers, rather than engage in family activities, is both developmentally appropriate and likely to reduce tension in the parent-child relationship. Insisting that the teenager spend the whole weekend with the non custodial parent is more likely to drive that teen away than it is to strengthen the parent-child bond. As teenage preference can be a significant factor in custody and visitation disputes, creating unnecessary conflict in that relationship is counterproductive.

Children are intended to fledge. A teen’s investment in peer relationships is part of that fledging process. A non custodial parent who demands a teen spend the whole weekend engaging in family activities as a means of preserving the parent-child bond may actually end damaging that bond.

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