With all the bitterness and resentment that occurs in a divorce such as alimony, co-parenting, every other weekends, and the train wreck it makes of lives in general, this notion of parental/child visitation is head and shoulders the most insulting.
The mere fact that I, as their father, am reduced to ‘visits’ with my children is enough to make me strap TNT to my chest and walk into the nearest family court room. It’s the only piece of my divorce that I have yet to come to complete grips with.
When the Jap and I divorced in ’05 our children were 10 and 18 months old. I moved, and still live, exactly 7.2 miles from the home she and the Trainer live in today. Being unaware of their impending co-habitation and ultimate marriage, I agreed to provide the necessary financial resources for her to stay home full time until my son was two years old. She believed, and I agreed, that their extremely young age warranted greater stability and going back and forth sleeping at dad’s one night and their mom’s the next would be a bit much. I wasn’t overly pleased with the situation but my ego and wallet took a back seat to their well-being.
Seeing a chance to move the docket forward with relative ease the court eagerly agreed with our contract as do most family courts in Georgia. At no point ever in the proceedings was it assumed or suggested that I would have equal parenting time, so instead of automatically offering joint physical custody to both of us I was relegated to a non-custodial ‘loser’ parent with set visitation that had to be approved by their mother and the judge. I was informed that if I had any intent on changing that arrangement not only must I go to court I would have to prove that I’m capable of doing the job. And I don’t need to mention the financial incentive one gains with sole custody.
All of this meant my time with the kids would consist of a few hours two afternoons during the week after which I was to bring them back to her house before bedtime and then every other weekend where I would pick them up on Friday afternoon and dropping them off on Sunday evening. Arguably an odd arrangement, but there was absolutely no way I was going to be one of those dads who has his kids every other weekend – or about four days per month. Regardless of my resistance, at that stage of the game, our arrangement worked for everyone – especially me. I traveled for business occasionally and continued to battle my way through the mental and emotional fog that comes with any divorce. And unlike her I had no network of SAHM’s who could help babysit or have play dates – she got the dining room set and the friends in the breakup.
But even with my agreement to our co-parenting plan the feeling that I was just visiting my kids remained a bitter pill. You visit the dentist or your Aunt Sue in Hoboken, that phrase shouldn’t apply to your toddler children. To me ‘child visitation’ reeks of prejudice and says:
“Yes we know they have your DNA and look just like you, we know you were in the delivery room and have changed countless diapers; but while we appreciate that you support them financially and love them unconditionally the best your going to get is a visit that will be put in writing and can’t be deviated from without an a judge saying so. Now be a good little daddy and shut up, stay out of the way, and keep sending the checks!”
As the non-custodial parent I have virtually no rights in the decision making process for my kids. The ex, if she chose, could move to another country and I would have to sue to stop it. On the other hand, if I took the kids there would be an APB out on me for child-kidnapping before I got across the county line. The custodial parent has the right to choose schools, activities, even religion, while the non-custodial has no say unless it’s been authorized. As far as I’m concerned that’s not parenting – it’s settling.[pullquote]You visit the dentist or your Aunt Sue in Hoboken, that shouldn’t apply to your toddler children[/pullquote]
I will say that while I’ve been spared the majority of challenges many non-custodial parents suffer it’s still that infernal term ‘visitation’ that continues to haunt me. It’s as if somebody has thrown me a parental bone and I should be happy with what I’ve got. But that doesn’t sit well with me. I’m just not one of those absent fathers who take to the road as soon as the judge signs the papers and is never seen or heard form again.
Why is it routinely that if a man wants to have equal time with his children he must fight for it? Why is it necessary that of the two parents it’s always that father that must prove he’s adequate to the task? Are the cards stacked against me because I didn’t do the pushing, is it because mothers are viewed as more vital, or maybe all the loser dads before me blew it and now I’m paying for their sins? Which ever way, at least give me the option to turn down equal parenting time – then I alone am to blame for feeling like scum.
Seven years later and I’m still the non-custodial parent who gets visitation with his kids. Many people will say that “it’s really no big deal”. “You’re still their father and you’re part of their life, it’s only a legal term”. To which I respond lets trade places and then tell me if it’s still no big deal? It’s an absolute big deal and an abuse of legit single dads everywhere.
My repeated requests for joint custody have fallen on deaf ears as she gives me the same rational from way back then. So for the time being I use my lot as motivation, a competition of sorts. Being a non-custodial parent makes me feel as if I’ve got something to prove even though I don’t. Because my parenting time is court mandated I find I’m far more involved than I otherwise might be and surely more so than the major lot of dads who have their kids all the time. But as of now the truth remains, much like that lowly bill sitting on Capital Hill, I’m just a non-custodial parent whose wounds have yet to completely heal.