Co-Parenting: When the Ex Won’t Exercise Visitation

“My husband has primary physical custody of his 10-year old son. His ex-wife is supposed to have visitation every other weekend. Unfortunately, she never takes her son on her weekends, and instead makes up excuses as to why she can’t do it. She has remarried and spends her time with her new husband on trips and weekend getaways. I am concerned for my stepson who never gets to see his mom and is feeling unloved. Also it isn’t fair that my husband has to be the full time parent while she takes zero responsibility for her own child! Not to mention the babysitting costs we incur on her weekends when we want to go somewhere. What can we do?”

From a legal standpoint, there is nothing you can do to force Mom to take care of her son. Dad already has primary physical custody and should be receiving child support. A judge will not force a parent to exercise her custody rights.

If you are incurring childcare costs because of her refusal to take her son on her weekends, then you could seek relief from the court to equally share the costs. Dad should, however, first request reimbursement directly from Mom before filing a motion with the court.

You are right to be concerned for your stepson- I’m sure he feels discarded by his Mom. It would, however, be a clear parenting mistake by you as stepmom if you were to inadvertently or intentionally give this little boy the impression that he is a burden at your house.

You are obviously and understandably frustrated with Mom’s behavior, but it also seems by your comments that you are letting resentment take over. You are failing to see what is really important- the child’s need to feel loved and secure.

Regardless of the custody schedule, there is no such thing as a part-time parent. Your husband is always a full-time parent even when his child is visiting Mom on the weekends. You, as stepmom, agreed to take on this responsibility as well when you married a man with a child. Of course your husband’s obligations to his child are going to affect your life. You knew this, or should have known this, when you married him. Instead of letting negativity take over by concentrating on how unfair it is that Mom is shirking her responsibilities, look for solutions to help the child.

The mother-son relationship is a very important one at this point in your stepson’s development. If he does not have a secure bond with his mom, then he likely is going to need some therapeutic intervention. I would start by getting him someone neutral to talk to about any feelings of abandonment he might be feeling.

Dad in this scenario is doing exactly what he should be doing. He is picking up the slack left by Mom and taking care of his son. He is putting the child ahead of his own inconvenience. Stepmom needs to do the same and remember that she cannot control Mom’s behavior. She should follow Dad’s lead and put the child first.

Anderson Keuscher PLLC
Reno Family Law and Divorce Attorneys