Society has the Teenagers it Deserves–J.B. Priestley
The parents of 16-year-old Alan divorced and entered into a shared parenting arrangement with an alternating week-to-week schedule. This lasted for five months. Mother then filed for full custody, asking the court to terminate the shared parenting plan and grant Father the age specific standard order of visitation for Warren County, Ohio. For children in Alan’s age bracket, this standard visitation order says:
TEENAGERS—AGE 16 UNTIL 18: Parenting time for children in this age bracket shall be fixed between the child and the non-residential parent. Parenting time shall not be limited other than as the child and the non-residential parent choose.
The court approved Mother’s motions, cut father’s parenting time to the standard order, and ordered counseling between Alan and Father. Father appealed, arguing that the standard order denied him his fundamental right to raise his child.
Meet the Teenager
The court interviewed Alan as to his wishes and concerns on at least two occasions. Alan insisted he did not want to see his father, that he wanted to live full-time with mother, and that nothing could ever change his mind. Alan refused to see Father on approximately half of the ordered times and refused most counseling sessions. The court found that he was sufficiently mature to have his wishes considered in determining his best interests.
Mother and Father used different parenting styles with Alan. Mother used the “discussion” method with Alan because she did not like to argue with him. Father acted as the disciplinarian, imposing direct consequences.
Alan did not participate in sports, extracurricular activities or hold a part-time job. He went to school, hung out with friends and played video games.
The relationship between Alan and his Father was undoubtedly strained. Some of the examples of conflict considered by the court include:
- Father objected to Alan getting a new homecoming outfit for $140, insisting that he could wear last year’s suit.
- Father made Alan stop playing video games to go to a long-standing dental appointment and Alan got “mad as a wet hen.”
- Father made Alan stop playing video games to do homework and go to bed by 10.
- Father caught Alan lying about not being alone with his (Alan’s) girlfriend and discovered that he had used his allowance to buy a pregnancy test for the girlfriend.
- Father admonished Alan in front of his (Alan’s) girlfriend about an Easter basket.
- Father and Alan argued constantly and Alan did not like to be disciplined.
The Court Blames the Father
The Ohio Twelfth District Court of Appeals found that the standard order did not violate Father’s Constitutional right to raise his child. Because the trial court ordered Father and Alan into counseling, the visitation schedule was “narrowly tailored to promote the compelling government interest of insuring that the best interests of children are observed in the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities.” The court found that Father’s own parenting style caused his strained relationship with Alan. The court further found that the standard order only set forth that the custodial parent was not the decider in visitation concerns with a teenager aged 16-18. The court stated that Father could file in Juvenile Court to enforce the Domestic Relations standard order that included counseling; that he could request an order requiring the residential parent to take the child to counseling with the non-residential parent; or the Father could request the court to establish a definite schedule. Because of these options, the majority opinion held that Alan did not have to right to control the parenting time.
Justice Hendrickson concurred in part and dissented in part. He noted that Alan was not very mature since he had shown a tendency to lie, to risk getting his girlfriend pregnant, and to play video games instead of doing homework. Further, he found that there was not a sufficiently compelling government interest that would justify a limitation on Father’s parenting time rights because there was absolutely no evidence that time with Father would be harmful in any way to Alan. Interestingly, he found that it was not in Alan’s best interest to allow him to be an “integral part of the visitation decision-making process.” Essentially, because there was no set schedule, the dissent believes that Alan got to hold his Father hostage by refusing to visit and refusing to go to counseling.
A Remarkable Thing to leave Out
Father argued for the first time on appeal that the standard order violated O.R.C. 3109.051(A) because it failed to provide a “specific schedule of parenting time” for the non-residential parent. Father never asked the court to modify visitation—the court stated that “remarkably, Father did not seek set visitation or to present additional evidence relating to this issue on remand.” Had Father done so, he probably would have received a more helpful order. However, because Alan was allowed to essentially veto time with his Father, the Father would have been in the same position.
Everybody thinks they know how to raise children; teenagers, not-so-much. When your teenager shuts you out, this decision upholds your right to negotiate directly with your teenager about when and how to visit. If your teenager is unreasonable, you have a legal remedy: file to modify; file in Juvenile Court; or file for counseling.
Reasonable minds agree that teenagers should not be “driving the bus” when it comes to visitation. The pivotal issue here is whether you believe the majority opinion that this standard order does not grant the teenager veto power, or the dissenting opinion that this standard order effectively does just that.
I side with the dissent. The standard order could and should go one step further: address what should automatically happen in the event of a flat refusal by a teenager. What I find “remarkable” here is that a Father disciplining his son by taking away video games and not bowing to his demands for the latest clothing style is considered unorthodox in today’s society.
As it is written, the standard order is useless because the typical legal remedies are not helpful with teenagers for one overriding reason: all of this legal wrangling ends at age 18. By the time a parent litigates a parenting time issue about a sixteen year old, the whole thing will be moot. A parent can easily lose a teenager during this delay.