What to Do if the Other Parent Does Not Show Up for Visitation

It is an unfortunate reality that some parents do not maintain consistent contact with their children following the end of their relationship with the other parent, and some parents don't engage in any visitation at all.

The reasons for a lack of contact will vary. A failure to maintain consistent contact may result from disinterest, but it may also result from physical or mental illness, or from a lack of understanding of how inconsistency affects the children.

Whatever the reason, the custodial parent is put into a difficult situation. The child is unlikely to understand why the other parent is absent. The custodial parent may become the focus of the child's anger and disappointment. Even if not, the custodial parent has to find a way to help the child deal with difficult feelings, including feelings of rejection and abandonment.

Helping the Children Deal With Absence

It's okay to be angry with your ex- for failing to show up for parenting time. In fact, it's a normal reaction. But understandable as it may be, that anger does not help the children. As you deal with the other parent's unreliability, consider the following suggestions:

  • Don't Badmouth Your Ex-: Tempting though it may be, it's not helpful to your children when you complain about the inconsistent parent.

  • Let Your Children Share Their Feelings: Talk with your children about their feelings. Reassure your children that they're loved, and that the other parent's actions are not their fault.

  • Don't Discourage Warm Feelings: While you should not encourage a fantasy, let your children know that it's okay for them to love and to miss their absent parent.

  • Support Whatever Contact Occurs: If your ex- attempts to contact the children, try to facilitate the contact for the sake of the children.

  • Have a Back-Up Plan: Have a plan for something that your children can do while waiting to see if the other parent shows up for an exchange, to help distract them from sitting, waiting, and feeling disappointed.

  • Don't Create False Expectations: Never make promises on behalf of the other parent, whether based upon your hope or upon something the other parent has said. If the other parent wants you to tell the child that they'll show up for the next visit, tell them that they can talk to the child directly.

  • Communicate With Your Ex-: Communication in some cases will be a one-way street but, even if your ex- does not respond, consider providing your ex- with periodic updates about the children's lives. Let your ex- know how the children are being affected by absence or inconsistent contact. Be as matter-of-fact as possible in your communication and, if anger may percolate through, consider communicating in writing

  • Follow Parenting Time Orders: Make sure that you follow any court orders for visitation and contact, even if your ex- fails to do so.

Some of those suggestions likely inspire the reaction, "Easier said than done", and that's a fair response, but if you do your best to follow the suggestions it will help your children deal with a difficult situation.

Seeking Help From the Custody Court

When a parent is inconsistent in exercising visitation, it may be appropriate to seek a modification of the custody order:

  • Verification of Visits: If the other parent routinely cancels visits at the last minute, consider asking that the court require that the parent verify visits, such as by providing confirmation that they will exercise their parenting time not less than 24 hours before it begins.

  • Time Limits for Exchanges: If the other parent is inconsistent about showing up for exchanges, without providing notice of cancellation, consider asking that the parent appear for exchanges within a reasonable time, such as within thirty minutes, with the parent's failure to appear to pick up the child meaning that their time is forfeited.

  • Locations for Exchanges: If the other parent argues over or complains about where exchanges occur, consider having the court specify in the custody order acceptable locations for exchanges.

  • Keep a Diary: Maintain a record of all visitations, making a note of whether the other parent shows up for the exchange, the scheduled time for the exchange, the time the other parent appears, and whether there are any issues with the return of the children at the end of the visit.

  • Modification of Visitation: Consider asking the court to modify the parenting time schedule to be consistent with the actual schedule. For example, if the other parent is only taking the children for one weekend visit per month, consider asking the court to modify visitation to the one weekend per month.

The goal of modifying the schedule or adding conditions and restrictions is not to punish the other parent. It's to protect the child by creating a parenting time schedule that the other parent is more likely to follow, and to avoid disappointment by having a child know when a visit is canceled rather than waiting for hours in the hope that the other parent will appear.

Copyright © 2016 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on May 7, 2018.