Should I let my children visit their father?
October 15, 2013 7:52 AM   Subscribe

My ex and I recently divorced after a 16-year marriage. The divorce was mostly amicable, and we had been planning on living in the same area after the dissolution of the marriage in order to be able to have shared custody of our two children, aged 6 and 7.

However, things soured up a great deal between us when my ex decided to move to a distant continent to live with his girlfriend, and gave me full custody of the children, contrary to their original plans for her and her children to move here.

My ex has now been gone two months. He was very close to our children and they miss him a great deal. They speak on Face Time two to three times a week but he has become a lot colder now. I have not noticed him ever saying he loves or misses them. He plans to come to visit them some time next year, but very possibly not till the summer, when he might take them to his new home for five weeks.

The children are struggling to get used to not having him around, and often talk about how happy they were ‘when daddy was here’.

Clearly it’s going to take time till they are settled down in their new world.

I am concerned that having them travel overseas with their father to stay with him for five weeks is going to disrupt their emotional stability.

Our divorce agreement states that he can visit the children here and stay at my home and I am fine with that.

What is the best contact and visitation schedule for the children?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you need a lawyer, or at least a mediator to help you work this out. Obviously, as their father, he is entitled to see them, but maybe he has to come see them in the country they actually live in.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:08 AM on October 15, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am concerned that having them travel overseas with their father to stay with him for five weeks is going to disrupt their emotional stability.

It will. But they're kids, and disrupting their emotional stability isn't necessarily bad. Look at it this way -- they get a chance to live in a foreign country for five weeks out of the year. You (and he) can make an adventure out of it, and use it as an opportunity to teach them about other cultures, or even a new language. They can keep up with their friends here and there via FaceTime, Skype, email or a host of other ways.

What is the best contact and visitation schedule for the children?

Contact will vary greatly by kid (2-3 times a week isn't bad, as it lets events accumulate so every conversation isn't just "What did you do today?" "Nothing..."). Five weeks of visitation (with perhaps alternating winter breaks?) is pretty fair -- it allows for plenty of time to do summertime things for you, and enough time for them to feel more stable in their other house.
posted by Etrigan at 8:10 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wow, your ex is going through some stuff. He may miss the kids terribly and he may be questioning EVERYTHING about his move overseas (who DOES that?) His distance may be his way of dealing with fear, regreat and missing the kids.

Perhaps you can travel with the kids to distant land to settle them in, etc. They are too young to travel overseas alone. If you feel comfortable, then they can visit with their dad for an extended time, if not, "Hey, it's been nice..."

If you believe that he's acting unchariateristically, or if alarm bells are going off, I wouldn't let them go. What if he keeps them? What are your rights under new country's laws?

I am naturally suspicious, and you know your situation best.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:12 AM on October 15, 2013 [16 favorites]

I would STRONGLY recommend that you get a family therapist right now, to help your children deal with their changed circumstances. Stress that they did nothing wrong. Do not ever speak ill of their father in front of them, but let them know that moving away was a decision their father made. Again, get a family therapist to help you manage this change with them.

If you can, speak to their father and simply say that you've noticed that he has stopped saying he loves or misses them, and that you they've noticed too. Be honest with him that you're seeing a family therapist to help the children manage the change. I do think it's possible that he's not saying these things because he's afraid he'll break down in front of them, but as your co-parent (even from a distance) the responsible thing to do would be for him to help you manage this enormous change in their lives.

Do not send them overseas without a change in the court order, including a written agreement around travel, length of stay, location of stay, and return (including who pays for all for all of that). If you actually, legally have full custody you do not have to let them go anywhere you are not comfortable with them going.
posted by anastasiav at 8:16 AM on October 15, 2013 [45 favorites]

I would prioritise getting counseling to ease them through the transition here. He's nearly abandoned them and that will be a difficult thing to deal with, not just now but also as they get older and better understand the choices that were made.

My six-year-old would be extremely stressed over weeks away from me. But, around that age I spent a few weeks with an aunt and it's a very happy memory. Only your family knows what flavour of child you have as far as that sort of thing goes. I do not think you are ethically obligated to send them overseas to visit a parent who has dropped the ball that far; go solely by what is best for your kids, not by what seems "fair" to their father, who had and chose not to exercise the option to remain more involved. Hopefully a counselor can offer objective insights your kids can use to figure out how much involvement they wish to choose. (I realise it is more common to think adults should make these decisions and leave children out of it and present things as a fait accompli, but, from my experience with this sort of thing, a terrific amount of "What now?" is best answered by just asking the child involved for his or her views and preferences...)

The other thing worth noting here is that you are only two months in -- you're in a transition phase; things will keep evolving and everybody should anticipate that it will take some time before the 'new normal' is established.
posted by kmennie at 8:26 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good lord, how heartbreaking for your children.

I second the idea of a therapist and suggest not making plans yet. Sounds like your ex is in a very volatile and weird place emotionally.

I would definitely NOT send them overseas without you. Do you even know the girlfriend enough to trust her with your children?
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:28 AM on October 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

A concern I'd have: if he is withdrawing from the children, for whatever reason, will he treat them acceptably when they visit? Is he the type of man who would neglect or be cold to them for five weeks when they're visiting him in a foreign country? The trip itself sounds expensive (I hope he's paying since he chose to leave!) but it's more his behavior that I worry about. The kids are awfully young to manage a long visit abroad if things start going wrong - would they be able to call you on their own? Would they be able to identify what was going wrong or just feel bad about themselves?

Would it be possible to have a first visit in your country to see how things are shaking out and only then arrange subsequent visits abroad?
posted by Frowner at 8:31 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your ex or you are not in Hague-compliant countries for custody, I would be extremely cautious about letting them go to another country to visit this early and with some reasonable doubt. I had a brush with non-Hague custody issues once, have friends who have had their custodial children taken overseas and lost to them, and have had to accompany kids with security concerns, and it is just nervewracking and risky. You're not being paranoid, there are real possible concerns to deal with before you even consider sending them unaccompanied to their dad's. You must talk to a lawyer first. Definitely don't let him emotionally pressure you into this without serious thought.

Can you increase the schedule of Skype chats? Give him something specific to do, e.g. he reads bedtime stories over Skype, or he's to talk to them about their sports activities etc, so they can rely on him for part of their week.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:33 AM on October 15, 2013 [38 favorites]

having them travel overseas with their father to stay with him for five weeks I would not allow my children to go to a country that did not support US custody judgements. Talk to a lawyer about this.

Absolutely, therapy for the kids. They will, or have, figured out that he didn't just leave you, he left them. It's really painful for them. As they grow up, this will come up again. I would email their Dad, and note that he seems distant, and specifically cite concerns, i.e., Son is feeling unloved, Daughter is feeling abandoned.

Have the kids connect with Dad is some structured ways. Draw pictures for him, mail them to him. Plat games online with him. Between Facetime visits, when stuff happens, say Remember to tell Daddy about that. When you go places, take pictures, and send them to him, or post to a facebook or blog page he has access to.(You may not want your kids' pictures to be public, or may not want him to have much access to your pages.) Plan to send a package for his birthday. This is not for him. This is for the children - they need the connection. And you want to raise them to have a relationship with their Dad, because it's the right thing to do, and because when they grow up, they will thank you for it. It's not easy, but I promise it's worth it.
posted by theora55 at 8:35 AM on October 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Be very careful about sending them to another country. Some countries have very different custody law than the US and that can be really problematic if your ex is a citizen or resident of that country.
posted by zizzle at 8:40 AM on October 15, 2013 [12 favorites]

1. You need to talk to a lawyer, preferably one who is familiar with the laws both here and in that foreign country about whether there is any risk to you or the children. You also need to know what your rights are when it comes to child support and other financial support. Which leads me to...

2. Get more money out of him if possible. You might not want it or need it, but your children are entitled to financial support from their father. Period. It is for them. Put it in savings if you have to. You made a financial agreement with him with the assumption that he would be here to share parenting time, and he's not.

3. Get the children into counseling ASAP. They each need a trusted adult to talk to who isn't you. This counselor can hopefully help you navigate the emotional stresses and hardships that might come from such a drastic change in their living situation.

posted by the young rope-rider at 8:46 AM on October 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just posting to add to the commentary about getting legal advice and formalizing whatever agreement you come to. In principle, I think it's best for kids to keep both parents in their lives, and the proposed plan doesn't sound that problematic. In practice, nail down the details (i.e. Amount of time, dates/timeframes, who pays for transport, what happens with passports, etc.) and have them reviewed by a lawyer with the appropriate international expertise before agreeing to anything.

Apart from that, wow, I feel for your kids. I would broach that with him -- over FaceTime, he may have no idea how his behavior might come across as cool or standoffish, and/or he may be a person who just isn't good with intimacy over the phone. If your post-marriage relationship can stand it, bring that up with him. If he doesn't respond in an appropriate way, that would be a red flag for agreeing to the visitation, too.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 8:51 AM on October 15, 2013

Just an anecdote: When my parents divorced when I was seven years old, my sister and I moved across the country with my mother (New Jersey to California). We spent our summers and Christmas vacations with our father. Sometimes Easter vacation as well. It was difficult, and we didn't have Facetime/Skype/etc. back in the 1980s, but we both turned out OK I think. We have a close relationship with both of our parents. As long as there are no legal issues with his new country, I think the kids will be alright.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:52 AM on October 15, 2013

Also, and this is just my opinion...there is no chance that I'd let my kid go live for a month or more in a foreign country with some stranger and her kids. Absolutely not.

I mean, what are their childcare arrangements? Would he be relying on his girlfriend for childcare if he's working? If so, even more HELL NO.

Dad has already made it clear that he is not putting your kids' needs first and I would be very reluctant to rely on him to do so with no supervision in a seriously difficult family situation (kids not used to the country, blended family...). If it were just him, maybe, but with another person and her kids involved, no. No, no, nope.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:57 AM on October 15, 2013 [13 favorites]

I agree that he has not put the kids first and needs to show he can do that. Putting his girlfriend and her children first is shitty behavior, to put it mildly. I think you should encourage him to spend time with his children, it's important, but to spend that time where they live. He should come to them, not them to him. Furthermore, as others have said, you don't know how the girlfriend and her kids and family will treat your children, and also it may even be the case that the country's laws make it difficult for you to get the kids back if he tries to pull a stunt and keep them there. Such things happen and you don't want to be in that position.
posted by Dansaman at 9:15 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

i would ABSOLUTELY NOT dispatch a six y.o and a seven y.o. child by themselves to a "distant continent", for the excellent legal reasons cited by viggorlijah above, and for the reason of psychological well-being that comes from continuity of care.

you were married for sixteen years, and then he subordinated the interests of his children, who by rights should have been the most important people in his life, to those of some faraway floozie. there's no reason you have to do the same thing, because you have FULL CUSTODY, and until that decree is changed, your word is law. don't let yourself be pressured or manipulated into sacrificing your kids' safety and welfare on the altar of your ex's midlife crisis.
posted by bruce at 9:17 AM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your ex is not acting in a way that says "I want to raise my kids and be in their lives," with the 1) handing custody over, 2) leaving the continent!

I'd say that maybe it's better for a clean break, and also that five weeks is too long, and maybe the kids would be better without the trip. But I think those things depend on your assessment of what the kids need (as oppose to what they want).

Myself, I think I'd say no unless I thought the other parent was responsible, and I knew their new family well.
posted by zippy at 9:22 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know of too many fucked up international custody disagreements/dramas/tragedies to recommend sending your minor children to visit.

No. No. No. No.

I triple say this because your ex seems to be behaving, er, un characteristically? Irrationally? Slightly unstable??

Seek legal advice. This is dicey, at best.
posted by jbenben at 9:24 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your ex has abandoned his children, in my opinion. He has left to satisfy his own selfish desires, leaving two small children to cope with the loss. His judgment/his wants/his moods and morality are no longer your concern, and you will get there! But the kids need to go through some grief and sadness, with your help. That is your overriding #1 priority. Everything else is secondary. There is no talk of the future or even next summer until YOU evaluate your children over the coming months. You are well within your protective Mama-lion rights to roar the terms at this abandoner. If it were me, I'd be insisting that if he wants to see them, he comes to them.

And, seconding the caution over sending them to another country. I have an acquaintance, US citizen, whose ex didn't even bother becoming officially divorced, she just took the kid and has disappeared into Poland, her home country.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:29 AM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nthing that a lawyer and/or mediator should be involved in the discussion. Six and seven seems awfully young. And I don't have kids, but if I did, I would make it a condition that at least one visit from their father to them at their home had to occur before they made the trek alone out to his.

It had its disadvatages, of course, but sometimes I'm glad my Dad pulled the full Jimmy Hoffa. It certainly made things like this simpler.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:39 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, I didn't answer your actual question, I got so grrr angry for your kids.

The best contact and visitation schedule is the one that evolves as you watch the kids, see how they are coping, what challenges to your own parenting this presents, how your schedule shakes out, what gives you the least stress (after all, your energies are in protecting them, helping them heal, not giving him face time) etc. I think it's entirely fine to do Face Time 2x a week, and leave it at that for now. And if you don't like how he's handling Face Time, or if it's upsetting the kids, write the rules down, get him to agree, or cut it down to one time.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:47 AM on October 15, 2013

I think your ex needs to live up to his end of the bargain and come back and visit his kids. You have no responsibility for your ex's emotional well-being, and you have no responsibility for helping him fix his mistakes. You have to face the fact that he is willing to hurt his children.

The ball is in his court. You haven't changed the rules you both agreed on. He has.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:10 AM on October 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think KoKoRyu has it right. If Dad wants to visit the kids, and I sincerely hope he does, he needs to come to this country and visit with them here, as you have full custody and that's how the current agreement reads. Sending the kids off to a foreign country at such a young age is not a good idea, especially when their Dad has been more distant since his new relationship began. His new girlfriend is not corresponding with the kids as well, and she is going to be equally in charge of their care if they go, right? I would not be comfortable with that at all.

I would not agree to just allowing the kids to travel there after Dad visits them here. He may not be thinking with his head so much now, and trying to appease his new girlfriend and her kids. You, rightly, are advocating for your own kids. It is not bitchy or catty or petty or whatever to want stability for the kids. It is also not wrong for Dad to want to spend time with them, and of course they want to see their Dad. I think every father has a right to see his kids (unless abuse is involved, of course).

Still, visitation does not include the right to take the kids out of the country where they live. What country their Dad is now living in has to be carefully taken into account, too. Your kids are young, and you do not want them placed in a dangerous situation, or worse yet risk their Dad, who has already changed your agreement once, deciding he now wants full custody overseas once they are out of your reach. I would not assume the worst, like he is going to kidnap your children-- but then again I wouldn't assume everything would be fine if the kids went away, either.

Tell Dad they are looking forward to his visit, but don't go getting the kids passports and don't agree to them traveling anywhere right now. If their Dad feels strongly about this, HE needs to go to court or hire a mediator, so that the two of you can structure a new custody agreement, including joint custody and child support. If he is not willing to do this, that would suggest to me that he is more concerned with making his life easier than doing what is best for the kids.
posted by misha at 10:48 AM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah he made his bed, and your children will suffer for it. If it truly was his original intent for the girlfriend to move to the US, then maybe they will revisit that idea once he realizes he's no longer being a dad to his children. But don't let the kids leave the country at this age.

Speaking from experience, don't ever talk bad about their father, encourage a regular schedule of FaceTime calls (consider pointing out to dad that he's stopping with the endearments and it would be good for his children to hear them again). Do whatever you can to make this process easier for them, always encouraging connection and new traditions (e.g. collect notes and photos and drawings in a special envelope for mailing on the first of every month, and then visit the PO together). Never argue on the phone when they can hear you. The children will remember this of you always, I promise.

And definitely get them in to counseling.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:20 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

you need to talk to a lawyer and see what your options are.

also, shoudl you decide to let them go, please, please, please talk to that lawyer about custody and parental return laws in whichever country he lives in. should he decide to keep the kids (this is obviously a worst case scenario), there are some countries that will not be at all helpful with child custody agreements, or helping you get your kids back.
posted by koroshiya at 11:46 AM on October 15, 2013

I agree with everyone else that you should not allow the children to travel out the country with their father. My gut feeling is that it would be a mistake to send the kids overseas with him. I think the other MeFites are right that you should be concerned about him attempting to violate your custody arrangements if he takes the kids abroad. Even if your ex doesn't try something fishy, his behavior is showing that he clearly is unwilling to make his children a priority, and traveling overseas with two small-ish children means he would need to put them first. In addition, he sounds pretty impulsive, which wouldn't jive well with all of the logistics of traveling overseas with kids (such as passports, immunizations, visas, etc.). I could also foresee him announcing this trip to your kids before the plans are finalized and then the trip winds up falling through, which would be devastating to your kids.
posted by emilynoa at 12:04 PM on October 15, 2013

I'm glad you're getting advice here, but we're just the first step. You absolutely need help from third parties. Please don't go through this alone and please do not consider sending your kids alone to another country until the situation is stable and there are written legal agreements he's following (not purposely disregarding).
posted by kalapierson at 1:26 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, I think 5 weeks as a first-visit length without you should be out of the question, and the fact that he proposed it so casually is another good indication that you really need lawyer and mediator help.
posted by kalapierson at 1:28 PM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Aside from the legal custody issues in this country, your ex sounds both implulsive and self-centered in regards to the matter of your children. You also have to consider the possibility of dealing with the kids emotions when Dad cancels the trip to visit him after you've begun preparing them for it. If he visits, it will surely be less traumatic for him to cancel that than for them to think they're going on a trip as well and to not get to go. If your agreement would allow you to keep the visit from him a surprise until he's at the airport, even better.
posted by itsonreserve at 1:44 PM on October 15, 2013

Just to pile on:
There's no way a 6-year-old and 7-year-old should be sent overseas (or even cross-country!) by themselves; yes, you COULD accompany them, but if he wants visitation then HE should come to THEM, not the other way around. And as so many note, is the country he is in Hague-compliant? There are way, WAY too many places and cases of the non-custodial parent using their homeland's laws to hold onto the kids (and sometimes even blocking their ex's exit from that country, too).

If he wants to see the kids, make it ONLY in your home country, and make sure he doesn't have passports so he can spirit them away. Consult a lawyer, stat.
posted by easily confused at 5:20 PM on October 15, 2013

I respect very much that you want to do what's best for your children and act in a way that doesn't further traumatize them or deprive them of their father, but my immediate reaction to the question of whether or not to send them overseas for five weeks is absolutely, unequivocally no.

Your husband is not rational right now. Were he rational, he would understand that his chief responsibility is his children, regardless of whether or not he is married to their mother, and certainly whether or not he's romantically involved with someone not their mother. Moving to another continent two months after leaving your marriage of sixteen years and your two young children says a few things about his mindset at the moment, none of them consistent with him putting his children first, and certainly none of them suggesting that his judgment is sound and trustworthy.

You're being kind considering this arrangement because you love your kids and you feel awful that they're in pain. You're a good mother. But, look, your ex might as well be asking for the moon on a plate here. No. No, he cannot expect you to put your kids on a plane to a foreign country for five weeks. He cannot honestly expect that being away from their mother after losing their parents - the unit of their parents, I mean to say - is in anyway going to be good for them. This is fairyland logic and, in my view, pretty self-serving. This request is beyond the pale, especially because he gave up his custody rights to pursue his romantic and sexual needs while ignoring his parental responsibilities.

Lawyer, therapist for you and kids, and backburner any further discussion of meatspace visits until the shock of this whole situation has worn off and everybody is living full-time in reality.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 5:38 PM on October 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

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