It is important for children that both of their parents remain in their lives following the breakup of a marital or romantic relationship. Even when the parents barely knew each other at the time of conception, children benefit from having relationships with both of their parents.
Parents who want to be involved with their children, but who are being prevented from having contact or exercising visitation, need to consider what steps they may take to obtain the desired contact and maintain a parent-child relationship.
As parents have less contact with their children, the parent-child relationship tends to become less spontaneous and more formal. Parent-child activities tend to become planned and scheduled, with less room for spur-of-the-moment activities
Absence creates an imbalance in the child's relationships, due to the absent parent's smaller role. . A parent who is outside of the child's household has fewer opportunities to express affection, to provide support for the child, or to see and praise the child's daily accomplishments.
In many situations in which a parent is largely absent from a child's life, the child will also lose contact with that parent's extended family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The child may feel abandoned by the absent parent, and perhaps also by family members who no longer have contact with the child through that parent.
Issues of long-distance parenting usually arise when a child's parents are no longer in a relationship, and one parent moves away, but they can also arise during marriage when one parent's job requires an extended absence from the home. Parents who are in the military, who take overseas employment, or who are sent to remote work locations for months at a time, often have significant periods during which they have little to no in-person contact with their children.
Whatever the reason for the distance, a parent who lives at a distance from the children must find ways to maintain a relationship despite their having less parenting time and, in most cases, less frequent visits than would occur if they lived in the child's home community.
Possible approaches to maintain the parent-child bond include:
Maintain Frequent Communication: Communicate by whatever means area available: telephone, text message, email, video chat, cards and letters. Work with the other parent to maintain a flow of communication.
Take the Initiative: It's up to the parent to make sure that communication occurs. Even if a child seems disinterested in talking or has not responded to a message, it's the parent's job to initiate the next contact.
Follow a Schedule: Most parents and children benefit from having some scheduled times for contact, in order to ensure that both parent and child are available. Make sure you stick to the schedule, even if the other parent isn't fully compliant.
Include Spontaneous Contact: Even with scheduled contact times, it's important to include spontaneous contact at other times.
Learn Your Child's Interests: The more you know about your child's interests and passions, the easier it will be to demonstrate your interest in your child and to open a discussion that will engage the child.
Focus on the Child: Your contact with the child should focus on the child's life and interests. Ask open-ended questions. Don't discuss your personal struggles or relationship issues.
Remember Important Events: Don't forget or overlook birthdays, special holidays, special events, or the child's victories.
Contact by Mail: Send notes, post cards, letters, appropriate gifts, and occasional care packages.
The Child May be Distracted: Sometimes a child won't be excited to speak with you or may seem distracted. Don't take it personally, as at times that happens to every parent, sometimes even when they're in the same room as the child.
Support Your Ex-: Don't allow yourself to become a sounding board for your child's complaints about life at home or the other parent. You can support your child and the other parent, but keep the focus on other issues. If you have a disagreement with the other parent, or want more information about something the child has told you, take it up directly with the parent.
Stay Positive: However stressful long-distance parenting is for you, odds are it's more stressful for your child.
When you have an opportunity to see the child,
Be Consistent: Exercise all of your parenting time. If anything is coming up that may prevent a visit or contact from occurring, try to work out an alternative visit or contact. Don't surprise and disappoint the child with a last-minute cancellation or by not showing up.
Make Plans With Your Child: Get the child's input into what activities they would enjoy during a visit, and incorporate the child's preferences into your planned activities.
Take Pictures and Videos: Photographs and videos will help you and your child remember the visit. If visits are infrequent, or when a particularly special event occurs, provide the child with some of the more memorable photographs or consider putting together a photo book for the child.
Visit Your Child: Even if visitation usually involves the child's coming to your location, consider the possibility of instead coming out to visit the child. If you are able to visit the child outside of scheduled parenting time, be sure to discuss your travel plans and options for seeing the child with the other parent.
Recall the Impact of Travel Time: The greater the distance between parents' households, the more time it takes for the child to travel between those households. Whenever possible, find ways to minimize travel time and to keep travel interesting for the child.
Courts want children to have a relationship with both parents, and expect parents to obey their orders. When a parent with primary physical custody is not allowing the other parent to see the children, the aggrieved parent can seek assistance through the courts.
Some states have administrative agencies that support courts with the enforcement of child support orders.
- Those agencies may be able to provide quick help for a parent who is being denied access without the need to go to court.
- They may also document or even investigate allegations of interference with visitation, with their findings being potentially reported to the court if the problem continues.
A parent who is denied access may ask the court for relief that includes:
Modification of Custody: Asking the court to modify the parenting time order to include terms that make compliance more likely, or provide for specific remedies in the event of non-compliance;
Change of Custody: Asking that the court change the children's primary custodian to the aggrieved parent;
Enforcement of the Existing Order: An aggrieved parent may ask that the court enforce its custody order and grant make-up parenting time for any time that has been wrongly denied.
Contempt and Sanctions: The aggrieved parent may ask the court to find the other parent to be in contempt of court, and potentially to pay the costs and legal fees associated with efforts to enforce the custody order.
A parent who is denied access should keep a diary, and log all scheduled visits or attempts at contact and whether the other parent complied with the custody order. The parent should continue to abide by other provisions of the custody order, including the payment of any court-ordered child support.
In some states, where a denial of access is extreme, a court may suspend child support until issues of access are resolved. In most states, child support and access to the children are treated separately.
Either way, the court will expect that its child support order will be followed unless and until it modifies that order.. A parent who is not obeying the court's order is in a weaker position to complain about the other parent's non-compliance, and non-compliance may cause the court to question their motives – whether the parent is truly concerned about contact, or whether their primary concern is financial.
At times, a parent will have only limited access to a child by virtue of a court order that limits access or requires that any contact be supervised.
Whenever a court issues an order severely restricting access it's important to remember that the court is trying to protect the children. Even if the court's understanding of the situation is incorrect, it is important for the parent whose access is restricted to demonstrate to the court that the parent has the interest and capacity to be a good parent, and that the parent understands the importance of complying with the court's orders.
To a significant extent, a parent can follow the same tips that apply to long-distance parenting. A parent should not engage in contact prohibited by the court, but within the context of allowed contact may maintain child-focused contacts, remember important events, and consistently exercise all available visitation.
Remember that the visit is about the child. Check your anger, disappointment, frustration, and relationship issues at the door:
- Don't badmouth the other parent;
- Don't yell at the child;
- Don't use physical discipline;
- Don't quiz the child about your case.
If visits are to occur in a formal setting, under the supervision of a social worker or therapist, be sure to understand and follow the rules for the visit. Some of the rules may seem obvious: Dress appropriately, be sober when you arrive, don't attempt to use drugs or consume alcohol during the visit, and the like.
Those rules exist for a reason. You want to impress the supervisor as somebody who doesn't need to be told the rules, as opposed to somebody who has to be watched like a hawk for potential violations. Make sure that you're complying with, and even going beyond, whatever it is that the court expects to see from you before allowing for more frequent contact or unsupervised visitation.