No matter the situation, divorce is likely to be hard on children and parents alike. Kids who have been used to having both parents be part of their daily lives may struggle to adjust to dividing their time between two homes.
Changes to living arrangements can cause a great deal of stress for a family, and some single parents can face additional challenges as they figure out how to balance their work and home life, take care of household responsibilities and provide the care and attention their children need.
Unfortunately, things can become even more difficult if one parent checks out altogether and loses interest in their parental responsibilities. Divorced moms have to deal with these types of situations all too often. An ex-husband may put all his energy into a relationship with a new girlfriend or spouse, with little time or attention left over for his kids.
A dad who was fairly uninvolved in child care activities during a couple’s marriage may pull back even further following a separation or divorce. When a father is consistently late picking up kids for his scheduled parenting time or fails to show up altogether, this can place a mom in a difficult position and cause children to experience additional emotional harm.
How to Respond When Your Ex Checks Out
If your ex has chosen to ditch your children or failed to live up to his responsibilities, you will want to understand the steps you can take to protect your children and avoid ongoing problems. By working with a family law attorney, you can create child custody arrangements that will allow you to provide for your children’s ongoing needs. As you determine how to address these matters, you will want to keep the following in mind:
Child Support Obligations Cannot Be Avoided
Regardless of how involved your ex is in your kids’ lives, he will be required to provide financial support to meet their ongoing needs. He cannot avoid these responsibilities by refusing to take part in your children’s lives. At the same time, he cannot reduce the amount he would be required to pay by quitting his job or accepting a reduction in pay.
Child support obligations will be based on the amount a parent should reasonably be able to earn, and a court may consider their education, skills, and past employment history when setting the number of their obligations. If your ex has not made child support payments on time or in full, you can take legal action to require him to pay the full amount owed, along with interest on any late payments.
Do Your Best to Follow the Court’s Orders
Your ex’s inconsistency may regularly put you in an awkward position, especially if you never know if he will show up to pick up your kids when he is supposed to. However, you should still plan to follow your court-ordered parenting time schedule, while setting realistic expectations for your kids and having backup plans in place.
You should not deny your ex access to your kids, even if you believe his behavior is unacceptable.
However, you can document the instances where he has been late to pick up kids or failed to show up altogether, and by bringing these patterns of behavior to the court’s attention, you may be able to have your parenting plan modified to reduce his amount of parenting time or put other restrictions in place.
If you have reason to believe that your children may be at risk of harm, you may be allowed to withhold parenting time from your ex. For example, if your ex is visibly intoxicated by drugs or alcohol when picking up your kids, you may refuse to allow them to leave with him.
In these situations, you will want to make sure you have convincing evidence showing that your children would be at risk of physical or emotional harm during your ex’s parenting time, and you should be prepared to address these concerns in court.
You Cannot Force Your Ex to Be a Parent
Even though it can be heartbreaking for your kids and frustrating for you when your ex does not show up during his scheduled parenting time, you will not be able to force him to commit to his responsibilities.
You can let him know how much he is hurting your children, but ultimately, it is his decision whether he wants to be there and be a good parent. However, if his actions have caused financial problems for you, you may be able to have him repay you.
For instance, if you have to pay for a babysitter to take care of your kids during his scheduled parenting time, or if you lose income because you were unable to work a scheduled shift when he should have been caring for your children, you can ask the court to require him to cover these losses.
Maintain Contact With Your Ex Whenever Possible
Even if your ex has completely disengaged from his parental responsibilities and does not regularly see or speak to your children, you do not want to cut off all contact with him. Making sure you have up-to-date contact information will allow you to get in touch with him in an emergency.
If your kids are interested in reaching out to him and attempting to maintain a relationship, you can make sure they will be able to do so, while also managing their expectations and helping them determine the best approach to take. If disputes over child custody should arise in the future, you will want to show that you made every effort to facilitate a positive relationship and encourage your ex to be a part of your children’s lives.
Be Honest With Your Kids and Focus on Being a Good Parent
As a divorced mom who is your kids’ primary parent, they will most likely turn to you for emotional support as they deal with the disappointment of being unable to have a relationship with their father. They will probably have many questions for you, and you will want to answer them as honestly and age-appropriately as possible.
If you do not know why your ex does not wish to maintain a relationship with them, you can express this to your kids and let them know that you share their disappointment about not having their dad in their lives. You can also offer reassurance that they are not at fault, making sure they understand that their dad’s failures are his own rather than a reflection of them.
As you continue to adjust to your post-divorce life, you can focus on being the best parent possible for your kids. You will want to be a steady, reliable presence in their lives. As they deal with abandonment by one parent, you can make sure they will never have to worry about the same from you. You can show them that no matter what happens, you will be providing them with a loving home, a voice of authority, and a provider of guidance, instruction, and support.
In addition to making sure all of their needs are met, you can speak to them regularly about their feelings and concerns and let them know that you will be there for them, no matter what. By being there for them in both good and bad times, you can offer them the reassurance that they will always have a strong and dependable parental figure in their lives.
With the right attorney on your side, you can make sure the legal issues related to your children are handled properly. An experienced divorce lawyer can provide you with representation during the end of your marriage and in any situations where you need to return to court to modify your parenting plan or address your ex’s failure to meet his court-ordered obligations.
By having a strong legal advocate, you can reach a resolution to your case that will protect your children’s best interests and allow your family to move forward successfully.
Tricia D. Goostree is the founding attorney and managing partner at Goostree Law Group, with offices in St. Charles, Naperville, and Wheaton, Illinois. She has dedicated her career to the practice of family law and domestic relations, and she works tirelessly on behalf of her clients. Tricia is proud of the reputation she has earned among judges, opposing attorneys, and her peers in the legal community.