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Child visitation/child doesn't want to have longer visits with noncustodial parent

My 7 year old daughter currently spends every other weekend with her dad from Sat 10:00 AM til 8:00 PM Sunday. He and I can't communicate unfortunately, we were never married nor together during the whole pregnancy. He and his now wife started to take my daughter when She was about 7 months after he filed for paternity with court. He and his wife have a 3 year old and a 9 month old. He lives about 20 minutes from my house and that I guess has made it more complicated for him to pick up our daughter and bring her back on Sunday night. That was the way it was ordered by the judge.
Given the fact that its been 7 years and I still can't have a conversation with him, its through my daughter that I found out he plans to go to court to request for the visit to start on Friday night til Sunday night. However my daughter keeps crying because she still has a hard time going with him as it is she doesn't want to go for even longer visits. He was granted Wednesday visits and stopped without any notice to me about 3 years ago. He never calls or has any other communication with our daughter except for the weekends she spends with them, even though I've many times have told him and his wife he is more than welcome to do so. He does not speak to me, and when he picks up our daughter and I've said good morning...never replies and she's noticed the tension.
Also, he keeps asking my daughter questions about my personal life that I feel he shouldn't be. that makes my little girl uncomfortable but she's afraid he'll get mad at her if I say anything to him. She doesn't like it when he picks her up by himself because of that. The good thing at least is that her stepmom is very sweet and has always tried to be understanding, and she sometimes comes with him. How can I prepare myself to help my daughter not be forced to do what she doesn't want. All these 7 years she's been going because she has to, I don't believe there is any abuse. But it breaks my heart to make her go when she doesn't want to, the one time I refused to let her go because she was so sick I had to take her to the hospital, he called the police. The police talked to him and made him realize that at the time my daughter was about 1 year old, she needed to stay home with me.

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Submitted Thu, 01/01/2015 - 11:50

Hi there. It sounds like you are in a bit of a tricky situation. As an attorney and family law mediator I can say that if you are concerned for your daughter, you can try to modify the parenting plan in court, but the opinions of a 7-year-old won't be given much (if any) weight. Massachusetts doesn't have a firm age at which courts do give significant weight to the child's opinions, but 12-14 is the general range depending on maturity. And it already sounds like your daughter's father has a minimal amount of time in which he sees your daughter, so I am not sure that a judge would be inclined to restrict it further without proof that he is harming her -- proving such harm would be a bit of an undertaking potentially involving child psychologists, a GAL, and other experts.

You can also consider mediation. It tends to be far less expensive and emotionally burdensome than litigation. The difficulty there is that you've said your daughter's father won't talk to you, but there does seem to be a bit of optimism with respect to your daughter's step-mother. She actually might be of use in trying to resolve this amicably -- and might provide insight as to whether your daughter is actually miserable when she is with them. In my experience, when parents are able to get on board with the idea that the child is the focus, those who otherwise might have difficulty communicating are able to do so.

At this point I would suggest reaching out to a family law litigator about your options and also explore whether mediation is a possibility. I'd also consider getting a support system in place for your daughter -- maybe a therapist would be quite useful. Having a trained professional who is also a neutral party can help your daughter and her parents learn to manage/help her struggles and provide insight into what is going on: is this is a bad case of separation anxiety and she is fine when with her dad or is something deeper going on here? We won't know without the whole picture.

Best of luck,

Meredith Lawrence

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