As part of their goal of protecting the child's best interests, the New Jersey family courts take cases of parental alienation very seriously. These cases typically involve one parent poisoning the child against the other parent through manipulative tactics such as lies and allegations of abuse. Determining parental alienation, however, is a difficult and lengthy process. In the meanwhile, judges are left to deal with reluctant or rebellious children who adamantly refuse to see or speak with the other parent. Some judges have taken unconventional actions, such as the Oakland County, MI judge who sent 3 children to juvenile detention in 2015 for refusing to visit with their father. The judge believed that the mother was poisoning the children against the father, and ordered the children to visit with him. The oldest child, who was 15, refused to see or speak to his father because he had witnessed him hitting his mother. The judge held the 15 year old, and his younger siblings who refused to have lunch with their father in the court cafeteria, in contempt of court and sentenced them to incarceration at a juvenile detention center.
For those who were surprised at the lack of objections from the attorneys, it should be noted that the children refused to speak to the attorneys. This seems to be support the idea that were children were being unreasonable, but even so, should children ever be forced to visit with a parent? That depends on many factors, including the child's age and mental capacity. Little kids normally don't object to seeing a parent, so when they do, it's usually cause for serious concern. Teenagers, on the other hand, often have disagreements and long-standing grudges with their parents, which can lead to them cutting off contact out of spite or rebellion. Then, there are the in-between children who are still adjusting to the many changes that have been forced upon them. Their reluctance to visit can stem from all sorts of issues, but it could just be a reluctance to fully accept the divorce. That sort of situation takes time and patience, but it can be difficult to tell whether this is the case.
What can be said about the Michigan decision is that it's a rarity, and extremely unlikely to happen in New Jersey. First and foremost, the New Jersey courts default to judging the parents' behavior, rather than accusing the child of being disrespectful of the court's orders. Even if the child appears to be at fault, the courts are most likely to order therapy with a court-appointed social worker or family therapist. This process is often referred to as reunification therapy, and the end goal is to restore the relationship between the parent and child, while upholding the non-custodial parent's right to have some level of involvement in their children's lives. It is, however, essential for parents on both sides of the issue to consult an experienced family law attorney about their rights and legal options.