March 2008 - Non-Custodial Coping
If your divorce or custody case resulted in a situation
in which you are not the residential, primary, or custodial parent, you might
be upset or not completely comfortable with this situation. Whether you are
a man or a woman, there are lots of other parents in your shoes and there are
ways to make the best of the situation.
Understand Your Rights
The first thing you must do is completely understand what your rights are under
your custody order. When can you see your child? Are you permitted to have phone,
email, or text contact with your child at other times? What kinds of decisions
can you a part of? Once you understand what you are entitled to, be sure you
actually exercise all of your rights. If you have the right to access school
records, do so. If you have the right to be updated on well child medical visits,
get that information. Exercising your rights not only keeps you involved in
your child’s life, but puts you in a good position should you ever seek
a change in custody.
Decide to Be Proud of Your Situation
There are too many parents who are embarrassed or angry about the custody arrangement
they must live with. You might feel the parenting plan is inadequate or unfair,
but for now, it’s what you must live with. Instead of focusing on your
negative feelings about the situation, why not focus on the positives? Enjoy
the time you have with your child. Make the moments you have together memorable
and happy when at all possible. You will both feel happier if you are paying
more attention to what’s right than to what’s wrong. You are your
child’s parent – no court order that divides up time changes that.
You are as much a parent as the custodial parent, so don’t let words get
in the way of your parenting.
It’s too easy to let yourself feel cut out of your child’s life.
The court decision in your case does not, and should not mean you are not an
important part of your child’s life. Backing away from your parenting
role, skipping visitations, and allowing yourself to be pushed into the background
will not help anyone. Despite how it might seem, no one has “won”
or “lost” in this situation. You and your ex are still both parents
and your child needs both of you. A decision has just been made about the allocation
of time – it is not a judgment about your parenting skills or your worth
in your child’s life. Do not let the order dishearten you or make you
give up. Your child needs you and the time you have together is very important.
Work With the Other Parent
It’s not uncommon to feel as if this whole situation is the other parent’s
fault – he or she may have asked for this arrangement or convinced the
court to set things up in this way. It’s time to get past your anger about
this. The very best thing you can do is find a way to be pleasant and reasonable
to the other parent. Make yourself available to baby sit if he or she needs
a sitter. In fact, ask that the other parent always ask you first when a sitter
is needed. Be accommodating about schedule changes. Make things easy for the
other parent. If you do so, you make it easier for him or her to agree to give
you more time.
If you and the other parent can reach a point where you
can work together, your child will benefit. You’ll be able to be parents
together – something your child desperately needs. The more time you spend
with your child, the stronger the groundwork you will have to ask for an increase
in visitation sometime in the future.