Coping as a Non-Custodial Parent
by Brette Sember
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 As A Non-custodial Parent
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 when you're a non-custodial parent. 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 being the non-custodial parent. 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 to 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.
Article by Brette Sember, copyright 2008. Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child's Best Interest (Sourcebooks) and No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill). Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.