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Custody battling

Categories: Best Practices, Missing Parent


My friend emailed me late one night this week, an update email about his kids, his work, and what was stewing in his head. He’s a fairly newly divorced dad, with a 7 year old son and a 3 year old daughter. His ex-wife and the kids live about six hours away by car.

It’s a situation he was amenable to at first: she was offered a great career opportunity in her old home town; her family was there and he could have the kids on weekends and for stretches of time over the holidays.

“But I miss the kids so much,” he wrote,”I want her to move back here, or at least halfway. And I want to ask for joint custody.” I could almost feel the pause in his missive: a friendship between a single Mom and a single Dad is rife with opportunity for misunderstanding merely on the general perspective of the sexes.

“What would you do,”he wrote,”If your ex asked for joint custody of your son?”

I drew in a breath and wrote back right away.

“I’d be all for it,” I said,” My ex isn’t interested in joint custody at the moment – he just wants it to be casual, so he can see Nolan when he wants, but without commitment in case he’s busy.”

The return email landed in my inbox with rapid speed.

“Oh,” he wrote,”I’m sorry. I just assumed that all Dads would take joint custody if they could have it. Sorry if I opened a wound.”


My ex and I actually have it written into the legal parenting agreement we signed off on two years ago – if my ex moved to this city, he was entitled to joint custody.

He moved here, just over a month ago – but, it turns out, he’s not interested in joint custody at this time. Entitled, yes, desiring, no. First, he says, his apartment is too small. Second, he plays a sport he loves and it takes up two nights a week and one full weekend day – he does not want to commit to every second weekend – or halftime – because of this.

I am trying not to push, not to nag, not to spew hasty things because of my frustration with this lackadaisical parenting schedule. Previously, though imperfect, our arrangement was that my ex saw our son for one long weekend every month – he would fly here one month and the next, I was responsible for flying our son to his city, to see his Dad. That one weekend every month gave me time to recharge my batteries: finish freelance work, deep-clean the house, have a beer with a friend, go for a day-long, soul-cleansing hike.

Now, though Nolan’s Dad sees him more often – the occasional Monday night drop-by, the sporadic Friday night, and Sunday afternoons – I don’t have a break of more than a few hours at a time to rejuvinate. I don’t have a weekend off to look forward to once a month. I don’t want to be selfish, but man, with two jobs and business trips and daycare drop offs and weekend sports - I feel like I need to have a block of time to re-charge, to be the best Mom I can be to a son who is awesome, and an awful lot of work.
I emailed my ex earlier this week, expressing again my desire — and what I believe is our son’s right and need - for a parenting schedule.

I’m willing to be flexible — I may need to go on a business trip, my ex may need to go see his loved ones back home — but I’d like a basic schedule in writing. I don’t really expect a response to my email - that’s not the way my ex rolls - but I would be interested in hearing what you’ve done in custody matters where one parent wants a “when-it’s-convenient-for-me” style approach.

I do not want to involve lawyers, at any cost, and I certainly do not want my son to ever get the feeling that his time with either one of us is not cherished and wanted.

But I want to establish that my “me time” is just as important as that of my ex. I know that nothing in parenting is fair, but at the moment it makes me want to scream that I am bound to the whims and desires of my ex. He can go away on vacation when he wants, I need to schedule two months ahead of time if I want to get my hair cut. Suck it up? Or is there a solution I’m not seeing here?

Hints, tips, stories? Bring ‘em on.

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24 comments so far...

  • My ex and I have a very strict visitation schedule because his parents have to be present for him to be with her…so I don’t have any hints, tips, or tricks.

    BUT — you are right to recognize the importance of your getting a break. A real one, not a fakey-fake, spur-of-the-moment 45 minute-long thing.

    In my case, we’d definitely have to involve lawyers, but only you know your situation.

    Good luck to you…know that we are rooting you on out here!

    Just me  |  November 17th, 2008 at 11:34 am

  • I am obviously not in your situation, but have had my fair share of family disputes over the years. You might try mediation…which isn’t quite the expense or formality of lawyers, but is more official than just shooting off an e-mail or feeling like you’re nagging someone over the phone. Hugs to you. I would be going crazy with a custody schedule like that!!

    mamajama  |  November 17th, 2008 at 2:46 pm

  • Just me and Mamajama - thank you.

    I guess I’m wondering what it’s like for other single Moms - do they share custody on weekends? Every weekend? How does this all go down?

    Do most Single Moms feel like they must ask for special “permission” to work or have a weekend off?

    Kristin D  |  November 17th, 2008 at 3:41 pm

  • I can understand your frustration but in so many ways you are asking your “ex” to be someone that he is not and now that he’s not your husband, he can pretty much do whatever he wants.

    This statement struck me: the occasional Monday night drop-by, the sporadic Friday night, and Sunday afternoons.

    This is where it seems like he is treating you like a doormat and hidden under your desire for your son to have his father in his life, you are letting him.

    Perhaps if you “made plans” for each time he comes over unannounced, he might get the point that he needs to make an appointment. Make a schedule, etc…That might help you make your own plans and feel less like a doormat.

    Maria  |  November 17th, 2008 at 5:39 pm

  • I don’t have any advice, but I will keep my fingers and toes crossed that you are able to work out a much more stable schedule for you and N both.

    Ashley  |  November 17th, 2008 at 6:23 pm

  • Wow - I would go crazy with a schedule like that too. How inconsiderate of your ex to think its ok to do that to you.

    I share 50/50 custody with my ex. He has kids every Monday and Tuesday, I have them every Wednesday and THursday, and we switch off every other weekend.

    I am fortunate enough that if I have something going on one of my weekends, my ex would gladly take the kids for a few hours, and vice-versa.

    A mediator, as someone mentioned above, may be a good idea. I hope your ex will realize that you need your time just as much as he needs his time.

    Erin  |  November 18th, 2008 at 8:33 am

  • I feel very fortunate that my ex and I are on great terms, and most importantly, he wants to spend as much time as possible with our 2 and a half year old daughter.

    We are in the process of completing a mediated divorce, and our lawyer had some great tips for a parenting plan. First and foremost, that both parents should be involved in the childs life when possible and prudent. Second, when the child is younger it is imperative that a schedule be set. Not only is this important for you, but it is important for your son to understand that on certain days he will see his dad. Having that routine is important and I know it has made the difference in my daughter’s behavior.

    Our schedule is great: my ex gets our daughter every Monday & Tuesday. I get her every Wednesday & Thursday then we alternate the weekends. Each parent also gets a “playdate” with the kiddo on their off weekend. This ensures that my daughter never goes more than a few days without seeing one of us, which is also very important.

    I am very grateful that I get days in the week to get some extra chores done, go workout without worrying if the childcare people are going to come get me for a potty accident, or just work late and get caught up.

    I’m sure you and your ex can come to an agreement that will work for both you and your son. :)

    Good luck!

    Brandi  |  November 18th, 2008 at 9:37 am

  • This sounds so tough on you. I’m sorry you have to deal with it.

    My ex and I have a 50/50 custody, so I have built in time to myself. However, we are currently on decent terms and both help cover various kids activities during the week. We’ll see how the holidays goes; it usually makes us more testy with each other.

    I assume you have some legal baseline for custody, and I sounds like it’s all you all the time, unless your ex chooses to work out a joint custody arrangement, which he doesn’t want at the moment. Given that, and that you have to have some down time, I’d vote for being direct. Figure out what you want: say a return to your one weekend a month, plus one evening a week your son spends with his dad. Then say, “This is what I’d like to propose as a new baseline. It would be beneficial for our son to have more structure, and I’d be happy to be flexible on top of this, if you want more time with him. Can we start this in December?”

    You aren’t being pushy or nagging or hasty, just stating clearly what you’d like to do.

    One other thing that helps keep me sane is having a backup plan for when my ex decides to disappoint me. So I’d probably see if there’s a mother’s day out program I could take him to one Saturday a month or something, to have 4 hours to myself.

    I hope you find a solution soon. Best of luck.

    Gwen  |  November 18th, 2008 at 11:15 am

  • I am in the same exact situation you are KristinD. My ex recently graduated from a college about 1000 miles away! It took 2 years, and now that he is home it’s like pulling teeth to get some “off time”. If I ask him to take them (we have a very casual open visitation aggreement) I am sometimes out of luck because of his work schedule or plans; he was recently in a local theater production. It’s hard because I think to myself that “Gee I may be able to do some of those things too if I could get some time off”. Maybe it’s just a maturity thing? I’m not sure, but yes I definately feel like I have to ask for permission. Which of course lends itself directly to feeling like I should be able to count on him to care for his kids, and then guilty that I feel like I need a break!

    Cheri  |  November 18th, 2008 at 1:05 pm

  • My ex and I live close to each other also. My ex drops by 1-2 nights a week to do the bedtime routine and get him down for the night. On weekends, he takes him late Saturday morning/early afternoon and I pick him up on Sunday late afternoon-ish. We try to have Sunday dinner together maybe once or twice a month. It works out really well for us. My ex gets to sleep in on Saturdays and I get to sleep in on Sundays. We’re pretty flexible and if either one of us needs to change things, it’s usually not a problem. It’s good too for the Little Man because he’s come to expect Daddy picking him up…he helps me pack his bag, get his toys together and things like that.

    Christine  |  November 18th, 2008 at 1:54 pm

  • I have sole physical custody, and my ex’s and my visitation schedule is fairly typical for my state (except for the fact that his parents have to be there). I should probably note on the front end that I live in an area of the U.S. that is notoriously conservative, and these arrangements probably reflect that conservatism.

    My ex has visitation every other weekend. Typical visitation hours in my state are 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday, but ours are slightly different because of travel time and my work schedule.

    I drop off and pick up, but that is also unusual…usually, the noncustodial parent picks the child up on Friday and the custodial parent picks up on Sunday.

    We alternate holidays: the person who has her for Thanksgiving also has her for Easter in that year. The person who has her for Christmas has her from the time the local school district dismisses for holidays until midday Christmas day. The other parent has her for the remainder of the local public school district’s time off (usually around January 3). I have her for Mothers Day; he has her for Fathers Day. Holiday schedule trumps weekend schedule.

    Sorry this is so dry and legalistic…but, come to think of it, our situation is pretty legalistic, so that should be no surprise :).

    Hope this info helps!

    Just me  |  November 18th, 2008 at 4:44 pm

  • Your description of your ex’s visitation schedule reminds me of the one that I have (or don’t have) w/ my ex. I, too, have no time off, the ex drops by for a few hoours on Sunday, which ends up being more of a stressor than anything. I have asked him to give me more notice and maybe work around my daughter’s schedule, but I truly feel like he does not listen at all. I have had so many e-mails unanswered that I have given up.

    I think it does come down to maturity, decency, and consideration. I consider my ex to be extremely self-involved. Actually, I am getting fed up with the whole thing myself, and have considered just leaving the house and not being here when he chooses to stop by and grace us with his presence. I agree that there is a “doormat” aspect to this. The fact that my ex does not visit Saturdays because he is dating someone and that is her day, infuriates me and I sometimes consider cutting him off altogether. Is that unfair to my daughter? I don’t know. Does she deserve to be treated so shabbily? Now I am rambling, but, I clearly do not have an answer. Sorry…

    Debbie  |  November 18th, 2008 at 10:47 pm

  • Kristen-This post really struck a nerve. Your ex throws a lot of conflicting messages to both you and your son. On the one hand he moves to your town to be close to his son…how terrific! Now that he is physically within close proximity he is letting you know that he is only available on his terms. It seems that he is unresponisve to emails…very convenient for someone who is obviously very self-serving. In my opinion, someone who is that self-involved and reluctant to be accountable can do more harm than good. I’m sorry to say that he is not going to get that you need a break. I would say the more you push it, most likely, the more he will retreat to keep the ball in his court at all times. The courts can do essentially nothing when it comes to visitation. Really all you can enforce is a reasonable 24 hour notice prior to a visit. The courts cannot legislate responsibility. I would be more worried at this point about the ambivilent messages he is sending your son. You have every right to expect a break and you do need it! You most likely won’t get Nolan’s Dad to provide it. Seek other means so you don’t lose your mind. I would approach the visits and the unreliability strictly from your son’s perspective. How does his dad’s lack of responsibility affect him? You may eventually decide you want less from his Dad and not more if this behavior hurts him when he realizes that love comes only on his Dad’s terms.

    leslie  |  November 19th, 2008 at 8:36 am

  • Also Kristen- I had another thought that if his drop ins are casual and he is visiting at your place (without much notice) is this a way he keeps an emotional hold over you? It is kind of a statment that his expectation is that you will be free. If he is not taking your son to his own place and hanging out at yours…I’m wondering if there is unfinished business between you both, or even on his end? Just a thought…

    leslie  |  November 20th, 2008 at 2:17 pm

  • Oh this sounds just like us. Since we were never married, there was no divorce and therefore no custody arrangement. The ex picks up my DS for dinner with his parents one night per week (always a different night) and then when there is something fun to do on the weekend. Often he only sees him once a week, and never overnight. I do think there is a control element to it. I could not date someone as it is now, because I don’t have anyone here to babysit and he knows it. I hate that, and as DS gets older I can only hope he will be more involved.

    Nikki  |  November 20th, 2008 at 5:13 pm

  • I am in the same situation. I am so thankful i found this website. i have been seperated from my husband for a month and he refuses to establish a plan with the kids. we have a 2 year old boy and a 13 month girl. i am 33 work full time, taking online classes and going crazy. i am pushing for him to pick them up so that i can get me time. he sees it as being selfish, i see it as a reality. i need a break. sorry i dont have advice, but honey i am in the same boat. the best i can do is to cont to ask and try and when he continues to say no, do like the other reader and not be home when he wants to ‘drop by for about an hour’ my children dont need a hour a week dad. they need a present father.

    tamika  |  November 21st, 2008 at 2:14 pm

  • Your situation sounds tough. I’m a single dad with half-time custody, and I have actually asked on a few occasions that I be given full-time custoday, to no avail. My ex and I co-parent fine, I just would like more time with my kids.

    You wrote this: But I want to establish that my “me time” is just as important as that of my ex.. It already is! Whether he takes your son or not is not an idictment on you or the value of his vs. your personal time. It has to do with his own issues about being an involved dad.

    Great that you are approaching this without lawyers. Nasty custody battles are a thing to avoid. And look at it this way - even though you may feel exhausted and in need of recharging, you get to give love to your son every single day, and I’m guessing that brings you some peace and joy. You’re a great mom, and I hope you find more ways to re-charge because your alone time is important.

    dadshouse  |  November 21st, 2008 at 2:59 pm

  • Be careful what you wish for.

    My sister, after years of lackidasical custody on the part of her ex, got fed up and insisted he take 50% custody. (To be brutally honest, this insistence on her part started when her ex got a girlfriend)

    So he took 50% custody. Then he took her to court and was awarded child support from her. They earn roughly equal incomes, but he is a contractor and hides much of his income. She is paying him child support to this day.

    nan  |  November 21st, 2008 at 4:38 pm

  • Wow, I guess I’m not in the majority here. I say that because I would love it if my BD would drop out of my boys life period! We have an extremely hostile relationship. He is jealous of my husband (a REAL man) and still wants me back even tho I left him back in 2004 (after he beat me for the last time). He is a so-called reformed drug addict, alcoholic, woman abuser, cheater, criminal w/record to prove it, and drives my boys around w/o having a valid driver’s license since before 1998! My husband and I are currently working with a lawyer to see what we can do to eliminate his parental presence in their lives. He is a VERY negative influence in their lives believe me, I see that when they come back from their “Visitation”. We been back/forth to court so many times since 2004 about custody and visitation. Anyway, we recently went through court-ordered “Mediation”. Basically we switch off every weekend (starting friday 3 pm to monday when he drops them off at school)w/ the boys and he has them most holidays.

    notthemajority  |  November 23rd, 2008 at 8:18 pm

  • Bottom line: What your ex is currently doing is totally manipulative to you. It’s also not fair to your little boy. This goes beyond the desire to have a joint agreement — what he’s doing is totally disrespectful to your time, and frankly, he knows it.

    This isn’t a joint custody arrangement issue — he’s basically peeing all over you like a dog to mark his territory. Personally, I would make an effort not to be home when you suspect he might drop by if only to drive the point home that you need a) advance notice; and b) you aren’t at the mercy of his vague schedule, and you — and your son — have a life/other plans, and if he wants to be a part of your life, he needs to make a reasonable effort to behave with a modicum of respect.

    Again, this is beyond joint custody. It’s about respect for you and your time.

    jonniker  |  November 24th, 2008 at 11:33 am

  • Unfortunately, you can’t force him to be the parent your child deserves. I speak from personal experience. My ex lives less than an hour away but onlly sees our children once, maybe twice a month. Even then it is only for a few hours. Would I like a break - you bet!! But in the long run my ex will be the one who loses. What I have learned from all of this is that there are times when you can’t control the situation - it is what it is - and you just have to play the cards you have been dealt. Best of Luck!

    Cheryl  |  November 24th, 2008 at 12:23 pm

  • My kids are adopted and have no access to their biological father. So, I don’t get a break. Granted, I knew this going in, so it’s not really the same. But as long as you don’t have an enforceable written arrangement, you really can’t look forward to a break either.

    My parents had six kids and no money, so I don’t remember my mom getting away from us kids ever. Well, when I was a preschooler, she did attend community college on some evenings, but I’m not sure that was a “getaway.” Based on what I saw growing up, it really never occurred to me that a mom has much time “to herself” other than after the kids’ bedtime. In fact, my mom once explained to me that that was what bedtime was for. The problem for me and you is that we work after our kids’ bedtime. It is hard. I spend a lot of time thinking about that spa day I’m going to have after my kids are 13 or so . . . .

    I’ve expressed my views on your ex’s arrangement before. Your ex is jerking your son around and your son is going to get hurt. Most likely he doesn’t realize it (OK, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt). Maybe if you sent him some reading material that is directly on point, that would wake him up a little. Usually people don’t accept what one person says, but if another, less involved person is saying the same thing, it might hit home.

    SKL  |  November 24th, 2008 at 7:33 pm

  • I wish I had some solid advice - my ex is similar - of the access he has (it’s meant to be two evenings a week, overnights on Thursdays, every 2nd weekend from Fri afternoon to Monday morning), he only takes every 2nd weekend - it was ‘too big a commitment’ for more- and even then he doesn’t always take Alannah.
    It breaks my heart but she’s used to it. The big difference between us I think is that I’m not as ammenable as you - there’s no way I’d give up Christmas with my girl for him - not with the way he behaves the rest of the year.
    Although for the most part I do get every second weekend off (and as a single parent that does make a huge difference) I can’t count on it. If there’s something that means I won’t be around to collect Alannah from creche I have to have a plan B in place, in case her dad just doesn’t show up.

    Joanne  |  December 3rd, 2008 at 7:37 am

  • I feel your pain. Ex and I separated in April and his idea about visitation is to call me on Saturday morning and tell me he’s on his way over to get the kids and he’ll bring them home whenever he’s ready. He goes weeks without seeing them or even speaking to them on the phone (they’re 2 and 4 years old!) and then just shows up to take them for a couple of hours. Frequently when he picks them up he tells me he’ll bring them back “around supper time” and then calls at noon to say they’re whiny and want to come home. It’s very frustrating and exhausting but what can you do?

    I did like a few people suggested and started telling him that we had plans when he called at the last minute wanting to visit. We had a few pretty nasty fights about it but I tried to remain calm and explain to him that we have a life and we don’t just sit around the house waiting in case he might decide he wants to visit. I want him to see the boys and will be happy to let him visit them any time but he needs to give me some notice so that I can make plans. And I have kept very thorough notes about every time he calls, visits, etc. and especially the times that I told him no and proposed an alternative time for him to visit. It only took a couple of times before he grudgingly started giving me a little more notice. You know, like 24 hours… :)

    We recently went through court-ordered mediation as an alternative to taking our case before a judge. It wasn’t ideal, but I think it can be a good solution in many cases. The mediator was theoretically objective and while she wasn’t allowed to give either of us legal advice, she did have experience in these matters and was able to tell us what was “standard” or what was likely to happen if we went to court. She also did a pretty good job of being creative and proposing give-and-take solutions for the things we were fighting about. It was a little bit of a joke, but it is a good option to consider.

    The only thing is, we left the mediation with a schedule laid out but there’s still no reason that he has to stick to it. So he’s supposed to have the boys every other weekend…there’s nothing to stop him from calling me on Friday afternoon and telling me that he’s got plans and can’t take them this weekend and what am I going to do about it? I have no choice but to drop everything and run to pick them up and change my plans for the weekend to care for them. He’s supposed to let me know by Wednesday whether he’s taking them for the whole weekend or not so I called him this week to find out. He said he wasn’t sure yet if he’d be seeing them at all this weekend but if he couldn’t, he’d just see them sometime next weekend. It was very hard for me but I took a hard line with him and told him that next weekend is my weekend and we’re busy so if he wants to see them, it needs to be this weekend and I’m making plans so he needs to let me know ASAP or they won’t be available. He was pretty ticked off but he said he’d get them on Sunday. He was still pretty nasty to me when he picked them up this morning but I just can’t go on the way it has been. I have to do what I can to get him used to some kind of routine.

    Ultimately, it’s the same now as it was when we were married. The children are my responsibility. He feels like he has certain rights to them but no responsibilities. If he wants to see them, he has a right to but if he doesn’t, then the responsibility falls back to me. I don’t have the option of saying “I’m not feeling well this weekend, you take the boys and I’ll get them next week.” It’s a luxury I just don’t have. I’m trying not to be bitter about that and work with what I can do. I can’t make him get the kids when he’s supposed to, but I can make sure that he doesn’t get them any other time which hopefully, eventually, will encourage him to stick to the times he’s allotted.

    Good luck to you…

    Wondermom  |  December 7th, 2008 at 3:02 pm