Helping Your Client to Ease the Pain of Visitation

September 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

Yes, I said pain. What should be a joyous reunion for the children with the non-custodial parent is often fraught with anxiety and insecurity.

That’s because the children are aware of the animosity and tension between the combatant parents. Some children have seen angry confrontations and even violence between the two persons whom they love more than anyone else. They want to have a relationship with each parent, but they are afraid to hurt the feelings of one if they show any enthusiasm for the other.

You are in a unique position to influence your clients to do a better job in making it easier and healthier for the children in these situations. Here are a few suggestions for the custodial parent:

  • Reassure the child that you will be okay while he or she is away. A child I spoke with years ago told me she did not want to go visit with her dad because she was worried that her mother would be lonely and sad without her. Remember that children have seen their parents sad, crying, upset and emotional during the heat of the divorce. They feel it is their responsibility to try to fix it. The custodial parent can alleviate the child’s concern by assuring him or her in the few days leading up to visitation that the parent has plenty to do, and will be happy to see the child go off for an enjoyable visit.
  • Let the non-custodial parent participate in the children’s lives. The transition to visitation is much easier when the non-custodial parent is not a stranger who drops in every other weekend. Encourage the children to call the other parent, to send birthday and holiday cards, to Skype every now and then, to call with news like good grades or a smiley face for good behavior in school. Let the children invite the other parent to school and church programs, sports, and award preseentations.
  • Leave the visitation schedule free for visitation. Never schedule outings, events, or even sports activities during the other parent’s visitation without his or her permission.
  • Be flexible in scheduling. Both parents should yield to the other’s reasonable requests for rescheduling due to family reunions, weddings, family holidays, and the like. If the non-custodial parent can only schedule Disney World with the children during the first week in July, why shouldn’t the custodial parent give up her July 4 holiday for some other time?
  • Make exchanges amicable. Leave the drama at home when it comes time to exchange the children for visitation.
  • Share school pictures. Get extra copies for the children to give to the non-custodial parent, the grandparents and other members of the family. The little wallet-sized and 4×6 sizes are not that expensive. Get a few copies of the order forms to give to the other parent and family so that they can order as many and whatever size photos they want.
  • Listen to the children’s experiences when they return home. Show interest in their experiences, and encourage them to share their enthusiasm, but never pry into what is going on in the other home or use the children as spies.  
  • Understand that parenting styles are different, and that’s okay. The children may come home with wide-eyed tales of being able to stay up to midnight, or to watch a scary movie, or being able to eat popcorn in bed. Reassure them that the rules can be different in different places, and the important thing is that they honor the rules set down by each parent.

You can come up with some more, based on your experiences as a family lawyer. The important thing is that you are not only a legal advisor; you are a wise counselor who can help defuse and heal some hostile situations. Clients remember that kind of help when their friends ask who they would recommend in their own divorce situations.

Before someone brings it up in a comment: Yes, I am aware that sometimes the other parent is beyond reason and commits all manner of atrocities in the visitation process. That does not mean, however, that your client should not try to “wear the white hat,” and do the right thing. One one hand, it’s the best thing for the children, and it’s the right thing to do. And on the other hand, it always puts your client in a better standing with the judge when he or she has been the one to do right.

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