Combating the Myth that Non-Custodial Parents Are Not Involved Parents
There are many reasons why someone may not have primary custody of their children after a divorce or separation. This does not mean they are not loving, caring, involved parents. In fact, it's usually quite the opposite. Non-custodial parents often work extremely hard to have positive, nurturing relationships with their children, especially since their time together is often limited.
How Time-Sharing Plans Are Determined
When parents divorce or separate, they will need to establish a time-sharing agreement or plan. While some parents work this out outside of court (with their lawyers' help), a judge will decide for them if the parents can't agree. When making this decision, the courts always put the best interest of the children first. Typically, the courts want to ensure equal access and parenting time with their children, but this is not always possible.
When making custody determinations, the courts consider:
- The living situation of both parents
- The ability of both parents to provide for the children
- How the children may be impacted by moving between two homes
- The geographic viability of the proposed time-sharing plan
- Preference of the children, when appropriate
Every Time-Sharing Plan Is Different
Every family is different, and after a divorce or separation, the family's life drastically changes. It is not uncommon for one parent to have sole physical custody and share legal custody with the other parent. This can happen for several reasons.
For example, one parent may have to relocate outside of the children's school district, and they decide the children should stay with the other parent. One parent may also have a work schedule or responsibilities that make 50/50 custody impossible, such as military deployment or frequent travel and long hours. Additionally, sometimes children do not respond well to moving between two households.
Just because one parent has primary or sole physical custody does not always mean the other parent is barred from seeing or contacting their children. In many cases, the non-custodial parent will still have visitation rights and a visitation schedule.
Common visitation schedules when one parent has primary physical custody can include:
- Weekends with the non-custodial parent
- Specific days or evenings are spent with the non-custodial parent, but no overnight visits
- School breaks or holidays are spent with the non-custodial parent
- Supervised visitation appointments are scheduled
Tips for Non-Custodial Parents
It is often incredibly painful to be separated from your children. Even when you know that your current time-sharing and visitation plan is in their best interest, you are likely concerned with maintaining a strong relationship with your children post-divorce. As a non-custodial parent, it can feel like you are facing an uphill battle. You are not alone in feeling this way. Below we offer some tips for dealing with life post-divorce as a non-custodial parent.
Tip #1: Be Kind to Yourself
Being a parent is never easy, and many non-custodial parents report feeling anxious and worried about their relationship with their children. Learning to parent after a divorce is difficult, and you will likely face unexpected challenges. Finding balance after a divorce takes time, and it is not the same for everyone. Don't rush yourself, and don't beat yourself up when you don't have all the answers.
Furthermore, you do not have to go through this alone. Your mental health matters and you deserve support. If you are struggling, you may find working with a therapist beneficial. A certified therapist can help you deal with your emotions and help you work through the new challenges you face.
Tip #2: Work with an Attorney to Understand Your Rights
As part of your divorce settlement, you likely received a time-sharing or visitation order. You may also have child support responsibilities. These court orders are legally binding and must be adhered to. If you do not understand your custody orders, you run the risk of violating them. This can come with serious consequences.
You may also be confused as to what your rights are as a parent. For example, if you do not have physical custody, you may still be entitled to phone or email contact with your children. Knowing what you are entitled to is crucial to maintaining your relationship with your children. In addition to understanding your court orders, a skilled lawyer can help you understand and protect your rights.
Tip #3: Stay Involved
When your children do not live with you, it can feel like you are out of the loop and cut off from them. However, if you were granted visitation or communication rights with your children, take advantage of it! Just because you do not share a home with your children does not mean you cannot be an important part of your children's lives. Do your best not to miss visitation appointments and stay in contact with your kids between visits.
Keeping an open line of communication and letting your children know you are there for them can make a huge difference. Many parents elect to establish a regular phone or video-call schedule. Outside of this, you can encourage your children to call, email, or text you whenever they feel like it. This can help your children feel like you are always available to them when they need you, even if you no longer live together full time.
Tip #4: Communicate with Their Other Parent
Though this is not always possible, if you can amicably communicate with your children's other parent, you should do so. Ask questions, and make sure they know that you want to be an active, involved parent. While your children may tell you a lot about what is going on in their lives, their other parent can keep you clued into important matters the children may not know about or mention. For example, the other parent can brief you on parent-teacher conferences, doctor's appointments, or other issues the child may be dealing with.
Staying involved as a non-custodial parent is hard, especially if you have relocated or do not have a set visitation schedule. However, it is not impossible. Also, though custody orders are legally binding, they are not set in stone. There may come a point in the future when you need to modify your original custody agreement. At Mitchell & West LLC, we believe in supporting parents, and if you need help with a custody matter, we are prepared to help.