By now, most of you have heard about the 7-year-old boy in Michigan who hopped into his mother’s red Pontiac Sunbird to drive himself to see his dad and was more than 20 miles down the road before he was stopped by police. Poor thing was speeding down the road at about 50 miles per hour just trying to get to his dad’s house. This kind of story makes me wonder “what made a 7 year old try to drive himself to see his dad?” Was dad not exercising his parenting time? Was mom withholding the child from dad? Does the little boy not like the stepdad and, with mom at work, desperate to go to dad? Or did he just miss dad and really needed to see him as soon as possible? (if you haven’t seen the story, read it here.)
We don’t yet know the underlying facts that caused the little boy to think it was necessary to drive himself, and quickly, to his dad’s house. Mom was at work and will likely have something to say about this incident later (dad and the Court might have something to say about this, too). Since family law is my daily world, my thoughts immediately highlighted on what the newscaster did not or could not announce: parents are no longer together, there must be a custody arrangement, and is someone withholding/not exercising visitation?
For some of you reading this, withholding or not exercising visitation with your child or children might seem a foreign concept, but it does happen. So, while we wait for the back story of the 7-year-old driver, I’d like to make a few comments about withholding visitation.
Georgia Courts emphasize the best interests of the child when presented with custody and visitation disputes (including contempt for withholding visitation) and will look at the circumstances to decide what is best for the mental, emotional, physical and mental well-being of a child. Generally, that means both parents having a healthy and active role in their children’s lives even when the relationship ends. That includes fostering a loving relationship between the child and the other parent. Judges do not like it when one parent interferes with or withholds the other parent’s rights to a child.
If you have concerns about the welfare of your child while with the other parent, call your attorney. Your attorney should be able to help you determine the best steps to take. Keep in mind that if you decide to withhold visitation and end up before the Court, you could be held in Contempt unless you have a good reason and good evidence that your child's welfare was in question.