Child Visitation is a four-letter word

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.

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27 responses to Child Visitation is a four-letter word

  1. Random Girl

    I am very sympathetic to your position. I have a lot of sympathy for my ex who, while we have joint legal custody which means we decide together on school, religion, and major medical issues, I have primary physical custody and with him being 2 hours away, he only sees the princess every other weekend.
    I do believe that the system is stacked against dads in the equation and do think it is because so many losers before you have set a precedent for failure which sucks for good dads like yourself and my ex. I give him any and all time that he requests to have her but I know that it’s missing the little things like breakfast every morning and funny stories in the car ride between school and home that he can’t recoup and that is a true loss. I hope going forward that your ex will allow you the time you want, regardless of what the court ruled as what you are entitled to and let you be the parent you want to be. 

  2. rhonda

    Wow! Never knew it could hurt so bad. This one’s an eye opener!

  3. Cari Wegner

    Okay. Going to comment from the other side here for a moment. I am a divorced single-parent with Full custody {kids see their Dads maybe a few hours every other week} so I can’t speak to what it is like not to have my kids with me all the time, it would devastate me and I’d probably turn to the bottle. Before I was a Single Parent, I was a SAHM; it’s not sipping coffee and bon-bons; if you’re doing it right, its hard work. Only having a two year old to talk to all day can drive you crazy. Now doing all that alone, not just physically or financially, but emotionally can take a toll as well. Getting two kids ready for school every day, homework, girl scouts, shopping, etc., is not for the faint of heart. I’m not a huge proponent of 50/50 custody. I absolutely believe both parents need to be in a child’s life, but they need a home base.  They need to feel some security and not the constant shuffle of back and forth.  What is the right answer?  There is none, divorce sucks, and the kids suffer for it.  We do the best we can.
    I think the court system is stacked against Dad’s somewhat.  I think craptastic Dad’s paved the way for unfair custody battles.  That being said, I think sometimes Dad’s use it as a cop out.  Okay, the court system is unfair, so fight for your child.  I don’t get parents that just sign over rights or say, “I should’ve fought harder in hindsight”.  If there ever was a time to stand up and fight for something, would that not be it?  Courts/judges will do what is in the best interest of the child, IF the opportunity and willingness is there.  Dads don’t allow the courts to decide how often you will be with your kids; tell them how much you want to be with your kids. 
    Sorry for my novel here.

  4. It’s a heartbreak. You made a very unselfish choice that came from the best possible place (at the time). I commend you for that. While I tend not to believe in “Quality Time” that is clearly what you are doing with your kids and making every minute count. When they’re teens they’ll be making their own choices…hang in there! You’re a GREAT dad!

  5. Anonymous

    “Now be a good little daddy and shut up, stay out of the way, and keep sending the checks!”  I know that feeling all too well.  It’s awful!  You can say those words to a thousand people and it’s only the ones that have been there that really comprehend how demoralizing it is.
     
    I will say, the first time your children behave the way you taught them, make a moral choice that you’ve engrained in them… all that pain goes away.  It’s worth it.  Not fair, by any means, but worth it.  Keep pushing.

  6. We live in a world where people like to say that they judge individuals based upon actions but that happens far less than people think. A lot of folks go for the knee jerk reaction that follows “tradition” and that means that a lot of fathers get screwed in this process.

    Unfortunately I don’t have any answers or good advice.

  7. You asked why the mother traditionally gets primary custody up there somewhere. That is a long held standard from days when father’s traditionally were the sole providers for the family, had jobs that  required travel, and other work related responsibilities. If you have a chance, read the “Good Wife Guide” from the 50’s. Divorce rates soared in the 60’s (women’s lib) and regardless of the ambition to achieve equality, women still earned less. 

    Primary custody was given to the parent who had been more of a constant presence in the child’s life. Also you had to factor in who would be losing less income in staying home with a sick child? Definitely the mother. If the roles had been reversed at that time and the father’s took primary custody while the women worked full time the standard of living for the child would have been lower. 

    It’s slowly changing. I had sole physical and joint legal custody of my children. Their father never wanted physical. When my son turned 14, his father expressed interest in having him full time. I encouraged my son in exploring that and they both seem to be doing okay. We have had a few issues, but all in all it’s working out. I do wish my ex husband had tried to be involved in our oldest child’s life, but our oldest is a girl. It’s not right either way… but I would have encouraged her too. 

  8. Lori

     I think there are a lot of men who do not think like you.  I hate the word “visitation” and don’t use it.  I know of some reasonable divorces, where both parents seek equal time with the kids, even for the other parent (or where that is not possible, support whatever time is possible).  I hope this is becoming more common.

  9. I hate the visitation word also and I don’t think it’s good for the kids. I’ve always wanted my kids to have two homes and not to feel like they need a reservation before they can visit either.

    I get confused by the different custodial terms and I guess there can be variations by state law. My ex and I have joint custody although the kids are with me the majority of the time. By our agreement, we have joint decision making on virtually everything. So I have to ask … how did you end up with an agreement that gave you so little decision-making?

  10. I work in family law and I see both sides. I have at times seen instances where the father had to work harder but as it was mentioned by someone else, there was a time when men held all of the money and resources and women had nothing. I have seen a number of cases where the women have had no chance because the man has had all of the money. I don’t care what the sex is, if you have no money you cannot battle someone who has a neverending supply in the court of law. Mothers have to fight also.

    I also think men (probably not you) use that excuse that “the law is against dads” to not even try. I have seen and heard it from a number of men, including good friends who I have had to talk to  about at least trying to get what they want and most of the time they did actually get it. There is a trend now where men will just decide they don’t have a chance because of so and so and something they heard from their grandma and something they saw on tv…

    I don’t quite know how things work down there, but it seems that maybe what you were agreeing to should’ve been explained to you before you actually agreed to it. 

  11. Several have asked the question. It was two things. (1) I like you mentioned simply assumed that was the way it was supposed to be. This was seven years ago and any people I knew who were divorced didn’t have joint custody. (2) I simply wanted to get out and stop the bleeding of money. 

    Divorce attorney’s are one step above an ambulance chaser, in my opinion, (no offense) and I was done being nickel and dimed to death. Since then it’s been a matter of decision on how I want to proceed. 

    All of which remains to be seen. 

  12. Mandy, 
    I was young, naive, and assumed that’s just the way it was supposed to be. No one I knew had joint custody and my attorney was a joke who subsequently lost her law license. 

  13. That she lost her law license is small consolation to you. I find it hard to accept that the only way for you to get more custody is to prove your ex to be not fit – that’s where I think our legal system is designed to foster disagreements. In any event, I know that the $ amount of child support is frequently tied to the number of overnights – could this be your ex’s reluctance to change the agreement? Could you agree to keep child support at the present level even if you had more time? Then there are other ways of spending more time with your children … like volunteering at school, chaperoning field trips (bet the teacher would absolutely love to have a dad along), taking your child to lunch and attending after school activities. Hope you find a way to get more parenting time.

  14. Angie, you’re right that we are still following standards from a generation ago, and unfortunately a few apples are ruining it for the entire bunch which is what is the most frustrating. 

  15. thanks man! It’s all going to work out just fine. I just needs to change for the rest of us men. 

  16. Thanks Bruce, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens when they can make their own choices. 

  17. You feel the same as my ex wife, and I just don’t buy it. They need a home base as long as that home base with with the mom. If the roles were reversed it would be a dramatically different story. 

    I will agree that when they are younger there is a need for more of a ‘home base’ if you want to call it that, but when they are in there tweens? C’mon?!?!? They’ll be sleeping over at friends 25% of the time anyway. 

    The real issue with 50/50 versus sole custody is more financial than anything else. At least in my case it is. 

  18. Jen_bilecki

    Studies have shown that it is better for the kids to have both parents equally involved, even if it means shuffling and going back and forth. Of course shuffling isn’t ideal but neither is divorce. The most successful children of divorce are the ones that have both parents equally involved in their child’s life. No matter how mothers feel about keeping their chicks in their nest and having a “home base” the fact is that when parents get divorced the children now have 2 homes and the better the parents can get along and share the children equally the better off their children will be.

  19. Papa – Author

    “Keeping the chicks in the nest” I like that.

    Thanks for the feedback and commenting!

  20. Women confuse me – if we thought the man was a great father before – then why not allow him to continue to be that great father post divorce? Why not allow the kids the chance to enjoy both homes until and unless it is demonstrated to not be what is best?

  21. Hypocrites

    Because *these* women (not all women are like it, but by now a substantial amount) they are driven by completely selfish interests. Sole custody is about power and controll feeding their own ego. That’s what abusers in relationsships do. Not willing to also take their share of responsibility towards the father and the child. Probably happened before the divorce as well. It’s abuse, society turns a blind eye to, even legalizing it since this is the easier choice. Like a group of people who cannot look into their own shit they produce. Simple, ugly scapegoating. Here it’s worse, because not only do they undermine the life of decent men, they are also usining and abusing their own kids.

    Hypocrisy of the type you wonder about what people of former times thought they are doing in some cases. Hypocrisy – that’s what these generations will learn in fundamental way, especially the boys. Not to mention what the girls will develop out of this – likely nothing beautiful from inside out.

    A hypocrisy not limited to family law though. Just look around what caused the cirisis we are all having to deal with already for a longer period.

  22. Kyle Bradford – Author

    “Sole custody is about power and controll feeding their own ego” — I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for adding into the conversation.

  23. LP

    It will be interesting to see what happens with your amount of visitation when the kids become teenagers. My guy’s kids are now 14 and 12 and he can already see them pulling away and figures he’ll lose them completely in another year or two. His ex has proven through previous issues that she will support the kids’ decision if they don’t want to be “inconvenienced” by visiting their dad every other weekend.

  24. Kyle Bradford – Author

    LP, that’s unfortunate that she doesn’t support them seeing their father. However, I believe as his kids get older, pulling away in their teens, is a natural thing. I expect that by the time my kids are in the mid teens, they will want to spend less time with me and that is ok if I can have quality time in shorter periods. Much is a wait and see thing.

  25. CD

    I’m pleased to see a blog like this that hasn’t been pulled down by our “courts”. I’m biased of course, being the girlfriend in this situation who has to help someone move on after being the major caretaker in his marriage only to feel used and disappointed once he graciously handed over custody. I also filed for divorce and have worked with my ex from the beginning to keep our private business out of the “courts” as much as possible, bc they seem like a bunch of creeps nowadays who were either badly wounded in their own divorces or have no concept of what it’s like. If I did not think we could have a “healthy” divorce for our kids I never would’ve filed, I would’ve been miserable the rest of my life yay. Really grateful my ex and I could move past it for the kids, and really bitter toward my boyfriend’s ex for exposing her animal roots. Apparently the courts are cool with that behavior tho.

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