Rights of a 12-Year-Old Boy
September 19, 2008 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Can a 12-year-old refuse to see his own father?

My wife's son is afraid of his father, who has what we'll call an anger-management problem. There's never been any lasting damage, but he's verbally threatening and sometimes does the neck throttling thing like Homer does to Bart. There's also some slamming against walls.

Eventual physical abuse is almost certain in our opinion. We'd go for full custody but nothing terrible has happened yet, and the guy is actually a good father in many ways, providing well and not neglectful.

The son does not want to see his father right now, even though the legal arrangement calls for shared custody.

Does a 12-year-old have enough "rights" to refuse to see his father? This is Texas, if that matters.
posted by king walnut to Law & Government (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
slamming against walls and neck throttling is physical abuse. Talk to your lawyer and the judge. He is not a good father if he is engaging in this. Do it today.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:11 AM on September 19, 2008 [5 favorites]

Eventual physical abuse is almost certain in our opinion.

The kid is already being physically abused. Choking and slamming against walls is physical abuse. If the child already doesn't want to see their parent at the age of twelve, then you need to look at getting full custody and letting the dad see your son on your son's terms.

Custody arrangements, child support and the like are ostensibly centered around what's best for the kid. Not what the parent wants. Tell the dad he needs to get help, and you're going for full custody.
posted by Anonymous at 8:12 AM on September 19, 2008

but nothing terrible has happened yet

Um, if the kid is terrified, has been strangled and thrown up against walls, and has been verbally threatened by his father... those would be some terrible things. I don't know if you are in denial or unclear what constitutes abuse, but this is abuse. Your wife needs to address this immediately, as in today, and get the custody terms changed as soon as possible. That child should be no where near that man. As for whether the child has the right to refuse to see him, I think that should be a question for your lawyer when you call him today to inform him about the abuse.

Also, the emotional damage that has no doubt already been inflicted on him will never go away, so saying there hasn't been any last damage is insane....
posted by gwenlister at 8:17 AM on September 19, 2008 [4 favorites]

Wait... throttling and slamming against walls aren't considered abusive? Did I miss something? Is it the whole "don't mess with Texas" thing?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:28 AM on September 19, 2008

Best answer: Nthing that this child actually is being abused.

Anyway, to answer your actual question, here is a Google Answers thread that says that no state allows a 12-year-old to refuse to visit a parent when the court has given visitation rights.

Good luck and I hope you do work out something with the courts that will protect the child from future abuse.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:33 AM on September 19, 2008

I don't know about Texas, but it is possible that "parental rights" are considered above what the normal people above point out is in the "best interest of the child". You definitely need to speak to a lawyer and identify what public agencies are available to you to help this child. This is a lot easier to say than do. The child is probably too young to make a good case for himself (assuming a judge would even talk to the child).

In some states you can file a "next friend" motion to terminate/adjust visitation. This is a suit brought by the child through you. A lawyer may know about this. The child would have to speak.

It may be helpful if you can identify a counselor who specializes in this issue (abusive parents). Many years ago, my now grown son was in a similar situation, and I found a counselor who taught him "strategies to keep safe" while visiting his father. This had mixed results.

My heart goes out to you all.
posted by Yimji at 8:37 AM on September 19, 2008

A legal question involving the safety of children must involve legal advice from barred attorneys in your area. There can be no exceptions on this point. Please disregard all advice on this thread and seek immediate competent legal advice on the matter in your jurisdiction.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:42 AM on September 19, 2008

To chime in with everyone above: what you describe is definitely physical abuse if it's happening to your stepson. You shouldn't "wait" until things escalate further; this is serious enough that it needs to be dealt with now.

Just to give you a broader context: many, many states have recently upped any domestic violence charge that involves strangulation to a felony. There's an increasing awareness among those in the justice system that strangulation is very, very serious, and correlated with abusers escalating to doing serious, long-term (and potentially fatal) damage to their victims. If your stepson has ever had his father squeeze him around the neck and cut off his ability to breathe--even just for a couple of seconds, even if it didn't leave bruises, even if he apologized or played it off as "not a big deal" later--that is an extremely serious red flag.

Your next step should be talking to the police (about what needs to be done to keep your stepson safe) and to your lawyer (about what needs to be done to keep your son safe). You should do that today.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:00 AM on September 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Short answer = yes. Long answer = talk to a lawyer.

I did this, when I was 8, in Massachusetts. The situation is kind of similar, but I know nothing about Texas state laws regarding this. My mother did have to go to court, my "father" fought it, I met with a judge who asked asked me to confirm that my mother was making the right decision on my behalf, the judge gave me a lollilpop and I didn't have to visit the "father" anymore.

The child is being abused, speak to a lawyer and having visitation rights taken away from the father if possible. Also take into consideration what the child may be thinking, feeling etc... I'm a bit worried that you think being slammed against walls and throttled is not abuse. This could be confusing the child.
posted by Constant Reader at 9:00 AM on September 19, 2008

Would you want to continue seeing someone socially who threatens you, strangles you and throws you against walls? I sure wouldn't. Your stepson, having the ability to see what's going on more clearly than you can, is being completely reasonable.

Eventual physical abuse is almost certain
nothing terrible has happened yet
There's never been any lasting damage

This is already physical abuse, terrible things have already happened, and only if you're very lucky will there not be any lasting damage. Please behave accordingly.
posted by lemuria at 9:03 AM on September 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Are you kidding when you say nothing terrible has happened yet? Being strangled and thrown against walls is physical abuse. The kid is right to not want to see his father, and I would hope the both of you don't want him to either. (I'm very concerned that you don't seem to see this as a big problem. What does the father have to do, punch the kid in the face?)

Report the abuse and work it out from there so that your wife has sole custody. Don't force him to see his father, that's just cruel.
posted by Nattie at 9:30 AM on September 19, 2008

He most certainly does have rights, and if he does not want to see his father, that's a big red flag of concern. He may need a guardian ad litem, an attorney who represents his and *only* his interests, who will act as a liaison between the court and the attorneys for each parent. Call the local bar association for a referral. A competent GAL can arrange for psychological exams and can broker the visitations so that the young man will feel safe and secure if/when he visits the potentially abusive father (the GAL can recommend supervised visitations, where a third party is present at all times and the father is never alone with the minor child). A GAL can also independently verify what, if any, risk the father may pose to this young man.

Please consider this, as it will show this young man that his needs are being met and that his feelings are trusted and respected. By having a neutral third party to express his concerns and fears to, a good solution for all parties may be reached and avoid personal and psychological problems down the line.
posted by kuppajava at 9:41 AM on September 19, 2008

2nding Ironmouth. Go find a lawyer ASAP. Like, today.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:56 AM on September 19, 2008

The 12-year old probably has the right to have his own lawyer represent him at the hearing, which may (or may not) be beneficial if it's perceived as a power grab by you.
posted by winston at 10:13 AM on September 19, 2008

Lawyer. Court. Now. The child needs to know you will protect him. Supervised visitation is clearly in order.
posted by ewkpates at 10:28 AM on September 19, 2008

Also: Father and son therapy is essential. Father needs to hear son say "I'm afraid of you." They need to be guided into strategies that will support safe interaction.
posted by ewkpates at 10:29 AM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll leave legality to the lawyers.

What should happen is the young man's wishes should be respected. If he doesn't want to see his father, he shouldn't be forced to. If his father wishes to make an issue of it, then he too should be respected. This sounds like an already ugly situation that needs to be discussed, explored, ultimately negotiated.

Clearly, somebody has already been hurt.
posted by philip-random at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2008

Please, please keep him away from this man. I'll chime in with the others and say that abuse has already occurred, and it is far more damaging than you can even imagine. Do whatever it takes to keep him away. There are no shades of gray here.
posted by mattholomew at 11:28 AM on September 19, 2008

You are assuming that what the boy is saying is true. If it is, that is abuse.

Everyone is right, you need to start documenting things and speaking with a lawyer, and get that ball moving forward.

However, bear in mind that kids at that age will tell you what they think you want to hear. Or come up with made up reasons to not do something they don't want to do. Or just want to see what will happen. Or just make something up for no reason at all.

As much as I hate to quote Reagan, you need to "trust but verify", and start collecting evidence to go further with this. But be warned that it may not exist.

I speak from the experience of having had my son's mother accuse me of child abuse many times over the past 10 years (since I won custody). It's never gone anywhere, but it is still a really shitty place to be.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:49 AM on September 19, 2008

Response by poster: I'm sure the boy is telling the truth, and I know it's abuse, but there are degrees, you know. The lawyer says there isn't much that can be done short of a full custody battle—which we're more than willing to take on—and calling the police without any hard evidence is just going to stir the hornet's nest. I wish this were the movies; I'd just step in and save the boy from the evil father, doing whatever it takes. Without the law on one's side, however, real life doesn't work that way.

Look at Pogo's example above—he's been accused of child abuse for 10 years and nothing's come of it, and I assume rightfully so. The point is, things are much more complicated than some of these answers (which by the way, I appreciate) seem to acknowlege.

We are going to have a custody battle, and it will take a long time. The father is very wealthy, well connected, and doesn't like to lose, no matter what. My question was not really about the long term. It is this:
By divorce decree, the father is supposed to pick up the boy Sunday evening. If he doesn't want to go, does his refusal carry any weight?

I've talked to a couple of lawyers. They think the answer is no, that the kid's opinion will only be relavent at a hearing, but no one is sure.
posted by king walnut at 1:05 PM on September 19, 2008

I don't know your states law, but the answer is almost certainly no. Allowing this would encourage parents who don't like the court's custody rulings to circumvent them by pressuring the child directly. The only avenue to deny court-ordered visitation rights is to ask the court to modify the order.
posted by Lame_username at 1:09 PM on September 19, 2008

A legal question involving the safety of children must involve legal advice from barred attorneys in your area. There can be no exceptions on this point. Please disregard all advice on this thread and seek immediate competent legal advice on the matter in your jurisdiction.

This. The welfare of a child is at stake and you're wasting time asking a bunch of random possible assholes on the Internet. Your wife needs to call her fucking lawyer yesterday.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:14 PM on September 19, 2008

I've talked to a couple of lawyers. They think the answer is no, that the kid's opinion will only be relavent at a hearing, but no one is sure.
posted by king walnut at 1:05 PM on September 19 [+] [!]

What, lawyers you met at the bus station? Get a real domestic relations lawyer. Your wife knows one. I believe she got divorced once.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:01 PM on September 19, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, I met them at the gas station. When I asked them the question, they were polite enough to tell me that didn't know for sure, because these things are, unsurprisingly, gray. But it was refreshing that they addressed the actual question.
posted by king walnut at 5:38 PM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well if my experience might help people, here is what I think will happen.

The court, via a Guardian Ad Litem, will take the childs view into consideration. How much that matters depends on the child, the GAL, the laws in your state, the color of the moon, yadda yadda. There are lots of factors involved. Suffice it to say that the only time your child is guaranteed to have a say is when they turn 18.

That said, objective evidence is far more useful than what the kid or you might say or observe. Teenagers especially will do and say things without any seeming regard for the consequences. This goes double for kids likely to be in family court. Anyone in family court will know this. You should know this too.

So - Hire a lawyer. I cannot advise this strongly enough. Hire a good lawyer that you like and that meets your needs. You will need to interview several. Make time to do that. From my experience - I had many lawyers tell me I was screwed and to just give up until I found one willing to take my case. Within months I had full custody. I don't want to get into details, but the point I am trying to make is that a good lawyer can make all the difference.

Understand that courts in many jurisdictions believe that a giving up on a parent is verboten. That means that you cannot cut this guy out of the kids life. Even if you manage to find evidence of abuse, the court will do what it can to allow that parent to fix the mistake and move on. Of course the best interests of the child matter - but having a meaningful relationship with both parents is pretty much all cases is the standard for that.

This varies by jurisdiction and judge, but be prepared for that anyway. And think about it - we've all done bad things that we wish we could take back. How much punishment is enough for that ? Try to keep your vindictiveness in check. This is hard, I guarantee it.

Have an idea of what it is that you want to achieve from any court action, short term and long term. If you go into this expecting the court to decide for you, you will be disappointed. If you have a goal in mind, it is much easier to direct the people working for you to achieve that. For example, have a workable schedule for visitation and placement worked out. If you have concerns, create metrics for which those concerns can be addressed. That sort of thing. But be reasonable, or you will be ignored.

I am going to tell you that if I just gave up, paid my child support and went away I would have saved myself over 50,000 dollars. Maybe more depending on how you count it. Plus so much stress and misery - I dont even want to talk about it.

The time I got with my son is priceless, and fighting the good fight was important to me. Not everyone is prepared to pay that cost. That's OK too. Make decisions that benefit the most people you can. The optimal solution is already gone, so you will have to pick from the best of the suboptimal solutions. So it goes.

If you want to talk more, mefi mail me. I've been through the wringer and seen the dark side of hell. It is family court. Good luck.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:07 PM on September 19, 2008

In my state of Maine, a social worker, teacher, health care provider, etc., would be mandated to report this behavior as potential abuse to the Dept. Of Human Services.
In my state of Maine, a child may choose which parent to live with at age 13.

The child is is being abused, and is in danger. Take the child to the doctor. Get a therapist. Go see the school social worker. Any time there is any event whatsoever that sounds even remotely like abuse, go to the doctor. Health care providers, teachers and school social workers are highly credible reporters of abuse. They are trained to ask questions. Some of them are crappy at this, but most are not.

During this period the child may be at greater risk. Get the child a cell phone to keep in the backpack, with important numbers on speed dial. No need to tell Dad about emergency phone. I might be overcautious here, but it's better than being sorry later.

Start thinking of ways to provide supervised visitation. Even fucked-up parents generally get to see their kids. And, in fact, the Dad may be able to get his act together when he faces the consequences of his abusive behavior. Document absolutely everything, as dispassionately as possible. Keep a notebook, and write it up. I agree with you that there are degrees, but I think this is quite serious. I agree with the "Lawyer up" recommendations, as well.
posted by theora55 at 10:21 AM on September 20, 2008

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