It's not you, it's them.
May 13, 2016 9:16 PM   Subscribe

My Ex has just dropped a bit of a bombshell and I need advice on how to minimise any impact on my 12yo daughter.

Ex and I split up around 18 months ago and they moved out around 6 months later.
That fun period was lengthened by an ever present threat of a custody battle.
After agreeing to 50/50 parental responsibility and my daughter living with me the Ex was supposed to have custody on the weekends.
From the outset they've been unreliable in holding up their end including going on holiday for two months, flaking on my daughter with no notice and now they see her about two nights a month.
I've been happy to go along with the bullshit because selfishly it means more time with my daughter which is awesome.

This weekend they asked my daughter if they want to visit as it's been a month since she last saw them.
My daughter thinks this is because they've missed her but in fact it's because they want to tell her "in their own way" that they're moving to a different country.

I'm worried my daughter is going to be crushed by this and I was wondering if others have been in a similar position.
My daughter knows I'm not going to abandon her and living with me has made us the happiest we've both been for some time.
But as much as she may want to hide it, this has to hurt and I want to minimise the damage if at all possible.

I haven't told her that I know the Ex is moving.
I won't be there when they talk and unfortunately this is not negotiable.

Do I tell her before the weekend or let the ex break the news?

How have others coped with 24/7/365 lone parenting?
I am ok with things like not dating or having "time off" I'm more concerned with the impact this has on my daughter.
Will suggesting visiting my parents or siblings make her feel abandoned by me or give her a rest and change of scene.

Selfishly I'm all "Awesome! fuck off and don't come back".
How do I make sure my daughter doesn't see this?

I've suggested therapy for us both but my daughter is not keen on this.
I will be seeking a return to therapy for myself although my own well being is not really an issue.

Has anyone been in a similar situation as child or parent?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I won't be there when they talk and unfortunately this is not negotiable.

That's very unfortunate. I think you should tell her first, then. Tackle all the rest of the stuff later as it comes. But, sit her down and tell her, "[Ex] wanted to be the one to tell you this but I don't want you to get surprised and I want you to be comfortable asking me any questions that you have. I believe that they are making plans to move far away to X country. I'm not sure what that means yet for how often you will spend time with them. Do you have any questions?"

Do you and the Ex have a formal custody agreement? I feel like you need one.
posted by amanda at 9:46 PM on May 13, 2016 [24 favorites]

I'm sure there is a formalized opinion on "best practice" here.

This is really tough because your ex is crafting a very awful and sadistic scenario, and depending on the relationships, you might get blamed somehow? Either way this will crush your child.

My gut tells me you need to prepare your daughter, tell her she can call you any time to be picked up, warn her things might not be as she assumes, etc..

The mother in me wants you to tell you ex to Fuck Right Off with that sadistic plan - you guys tell her together in your home, she gets to decide if she wants a weekend visit afterwards or not.

You know what? As the custodial parent here's your script. Put it in an email so you have this documented:

"Dear Ex,

Daughter is thrilled to be seeing you this weekend. Unfortunately, she believes this is a visit to catch up. When Daughter finds out you are leaving the country, she will be understandably crushed.

Please tell Daughter you are moving in person at Daughter's home. This way if she is too upset, she can retreat to her room to process your news. I know this is difficult news. In truth, you will be completely blindsiding Daughter because she is unaware of your intentions.

Thank you for your cooperation. I know you don't want to unnecessarily hurt Daughter.

We'll see you Saturday at X time.


posted by jbenben at 9:48 PM on May 13, 2016 [36 favorites]

When I was 14 my mom moved overseas with my brother, and my dad and I stayed here. It was initially a shock, but I grew comfortable with the move over the months that we all prepared. During my high school years we continued to visit back and forth. They tried to soften the blow, which became a problem for me much later.

When I was 20 I realized that I had been harboring a great deal of resentment and confusion about the situation, because ultimately it had been a divorce but not described as one. I think they tried to emphasize the necessity of her taking care of her father instead of simply saying that they were splitting up and she was going home. Looking back, I think I would have benefited from a rip-the-bandaid approach. Maybe they themselves did not know what was actually happening?

In the years since, my brother and I have stayed close but I’ve been in just-okay contact with my mom. It’s not ideal, and I think it’s made me somewhat more fragile and prickly than I could be.

I am grateful, however, that they told me together instead of separately. I agree with the comments above that this is very important.
posted by migurski at 9:50 PM on May 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

Look, Ex isn't really parenting. Ex is visiting every now and then. The loss in her life won't be as devastating as it probably was when she stopped seeing him regularly and he flaked on her. Daughter is a teenager, not a small child. It sucks but she is capable of seeing her dad as a flawed human.
How far away is foreign country? Do you guys have some initial plans in place for Ex to visit you guys or Daughter to visit Ex on school holidays? Get some initial thoughts going on that before Ex talks to Daughter.
posted by k8t at 10:03 PM on May 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

Maybe I am catastrophizing, but your ex taking your daughter and running off isn't a possibility is it? The notion that they are inflexible in you being there for the "reveal" seems...
posted by blueberry at 10:17 PM on May 13, 2016 [69 favorites]

Could you arrange for a friend of your daughter's to be there during the weekend so that she has someone to talk to?
posted by XMLicious at 11:12 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would not tell her in advance, but I would tell her that you are going to be around all weekend and if at any time she wants to call and talk, day and night, no matter what time, that she can and should call.
posted by AugustWest at 11:44 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am ok with things like not dating or having "time off"

My mother was a great parent but one thing she could have done better would have been to find ways to carve out time for herself.

I hope you'll remember to keep your own "oxygen mask" on while you're raising your daughter 24/7/365.
posted by aniola at 11:45 PM on May 13, 2016 [24 favorites]

"I won't be there when they talk and unfortunately this is not negotiable."

"That fun period was lengthened by an ever present threat of a custody battle."

Maybe you can explain why you can't be there when your daughter gets blindsided by your ex?

I'm also kinda concerned by custody issues. Do you have a lawyer? What's the deal here??

Come to think of it, there's no good reason to exclude you from this conversation such that your exclusion is "not negotiable." What prevents you from being present??

Your Daughter comes first. Why is it "not negotiable" that she thinks she's having a visit with an absentee parent, when really, she's being blindsided with awful news that will devastate her and shake her trust in relationships? What if this is a custody ploy?

I think you were blindsided, too. Take a step back. Delay the meeting. See a lawyer.

You're a parent. Do that here.
posted by jbenben at 12:19 AM on May 14, 2016 [27 favorites]

Also, is it possible your ex obtained documentation such that they can travel legally with your daughter? What are the laws where you live?

My husband is not from the country where we reside. I never looked into it, but surely he could apply for a passport and/or visa based on our son's birth certificate since my husband's name is on this document. We live in SoCal near Mexico, if my husband and son went there for a day trip, I'm not sure what, if any, docs would be required.

Not to freak you out. Just... Wow. So many issues left up in the air due to the loosey goosey way you and ex separated. Get on that! This is no joke.

Red neon flags are flashing.
posted by jbenben at 12:27 AM on May 14, 2016 [20 favorites]

Just want to focus on one of your post-reveal options (not going with the assumption your daughter may be kidnapped!):
"Will suggesting visiting my parents or siblings make her feel abandoned by me or give her a rest and change of scene?" Assuming you mean going away for an extended visit, yes, I think it's likely that this would be a bad move, unless you are going to go with her or she is extremely close to her grandparents/aunts/uncles in a "they're more like part of the nuclear family than extended family" way. If it's going to be the two of you from now on, I think it will be really important for her to feel like you are her rock, and that you will be present to deal with the fallout from this, however hard and messy. She might feel like you are "sending her away" and don't want her around when she's sad or that you want for her to pretend nothing happened, which would be very very hard on an already devastated kid. Children, I think, don't tend to deal with problems in a "rest and a change of scene" way. That's an adult perspective. Their lives are much more immediate and present, and she will need to feel as secure as possible right now, with her parent who loves her.
posted by mymbleth at 12:55 AM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

I agree with mymbleth. I think suggesting she visit your parents or sister could almost feel like "now my mom is trying to get rid of me too!" She's old enough to logically understand that that's not your intent, but being in a less-familiar house may just feel lonely regardless. I'd just continue being a steady presence, and include time for yourself in.your weekly and monthly routine.
posted by salvia at 1:42 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Will suggesting visiting my parents or siblings make her feel abandoned by me or give her a rest and change of scene.

Like, right after your ex drops the bombshell? No, don't do that.

A few months from now when you need some down time and she's up for an adventure? Sure, do that.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:27 AM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think that you need to either break the news together (and I nth the suggestion to do it in your home, since she is most comfortable there), or you should talk to her before the visit. Even if she's used to not having this parent present in her life, she will probably still feel like the rug is being pulled from under her.

I don't think you need to suggest visits to other relatives' houses. The visits with her other parent are not for a change of scenery, but because she is visiting a parent. I don't think you need to come up with an alternative house for her to visit. If visiting other relatives comes up, it's a separate thing to what is currently happening.

Also, I am paranoid and would be concerned about the other parent taking her overseas. It's happened enough times that it's not something that I think could be completely ruled out. Please do take care.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:34 AM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your child may be resentful that you knew of this and didn't tell her ahead of time.
Also I have a friend who's wife took daughter to visit family in another country. She filed for divorce there and he hasn't seen either in over 6 years. So I suggest checking out this state department page.
posted by Sophont at 3:03 AM on May 14, 2016 [28 favorites]

It's better to be honest with her about the likely scenarios, and explain to her why you need her to stay at the house for this visit. You are not doing a good job of protecting her right now. Letting her dad off the hook and then letting him abuse his parental role by having this talk on his terms is not in her best interest. I'm familiar with the advice that you can't protect children from their asshole parents and they should see that the parent is a jerk if it's true but this is not the same situation as letting him forget to pack her lunch properly or sign a school trip form. There is also a risk that he'll try to take her with him, the flag is the way he wanted custody and then dropped off (perhaps because he came up with a plan b) and is now leaving. I think the right thing to do is to tell her it's a possibility that he's moving out of the country and you think it's best if you're there in light of that and also because he's been flaking and cancelling and not upholding his side of things. If I were your daughter I'd want you to be there. This seems like a lawyer situation. Also teenagers and college is expensive, if he leaves the country will you be getting money from him? I know it's tempting to just let him go but this could have repercussions for years for both of you.

My dad left when I was a few years younger than your daughter and neither of my parents spelled out what was happening very well, I didn't see him again for a decade. Looking back I know they weren't equipped to have the discussions that would have helped but it caused me and my siblings a lot of grief. For me I've had issues surrounding abandonment come up a lot in my relationships, issues around feeling worthy of respect and love and loving myself versus seeking relationships to fill that hole. These won't all be apparent in your daughter right away but her relationship and experience with her dad, and also how she sees you handling the situation will affect her and the choices she makes in relationships as she matures. It's great you're in therapy and putting it on the table for her.

In terms of single parenting, kids just want to see their parents happy. My mom dated and had relationships with other men but never lived with a man again, I appreciated that through my teenage years (because I really didn't like the man in question) but now I just wish she had some good close friends or a boyfriend to spend time with. Other friends who were raised without dads due to widowing or divorce feel similarly, they would have liked to see their moms date or join clubs and have hobbies outside of parenting and working, out of the three of us that I knew closely all of our moms stayed fairly isolated and it made all of us sad for our moms and gave us a lot of guilt. Especially for an only child it can put a burden on the child to be everything to the parent which isn't fair. In the teenage years and adulthood children need to feel like it's ok to have friends and lives and more independence and not so much guilt that they're abandoning their mom if they spend time with other people.
posted by lafemma at 4:53 AM on May 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

You know what? You don't owe your ex anything here. I'd flat out tell him, "Either you come here and talk to Cecilia and I together about your plans to move out of the country, or I'll tell her myself right now. THIS is non-negotiable."

Also absolutely, 100% get a formal custody arrangement in place WITH appropriate child support, because he's not going to have 50/50 custody anymore so he needs to contribute financially to her maintenance.

Under NO circumstances is she to travel to his home out of the country unaccompanied.

No, your daughter should not be blindsided by your ex's news, especially if you're unsure of how he plans to deliver this news.

Either way, it's going to be an ugly weekend.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:57 AM on May 14, 2016 [64 favorites]

Don't let Ex's wishes carry the day. It may be their news, but it's your child- both of you. Just because it's their news/decision does not give them the right to control how it is communicated. Especially to a child that is rarely seen or barely part of their lives. The presumptuousness is staggering.

There is a whole spectrum of potential here, from "face value being true" all the way to the worst-cases others have mentioned above. All that matters here is the child's feelings and mindset and future.

There is a Venn diagram that offsets 2 circles- 1) Things that matter; 2) Things I can control. The small space that appears in the middle is called "What I focus on."

Here, What Matters is your child. NOT YOUR EX. You owe your Ex nothing. They are an adult. They are not your responsibility in any way. If legal matters, well, matter, Sort That Shit Out.

What You Can Control is up to you to decide and orchestrate. And then DO IT. One thing you can control is your relationship with your child. For one, I would never want to be put in a position that required me to lie to my child, in an event of this magnitude. I love the letter proposed by Jbenben. Draw a line and say, "Nope. Here is how it's gonna be." Because the one who is leaving, the one who is causing the upheaval, does not get to make the rules.

Your Ex may never see your child again. Ever. You, however, will be with your child for a long, long time. Do everything you can to support her and give her what she deserves. That is parenting. That is love.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:11 AM on May 14, 2016 [26 favorites]

I have to say that I disagree with telling your child before hand. I have such strong memories of demonizing my mother and romanticizing my dead-beat dad who took off when there were 3 of us under the age of 3. My mom always talked about how she was wronged and how evil my father was. As an adult, I understand where she was coming from, but she is also someone who makes everything about her, and I resent that I had to take on so much of her grief from such a young age. I am not saying that you are like this at all, but just to say that despite our best intentions our kids develop their own narrative of their life. When I got divorced it was important for me that 1. my kids had a relationship with their dad. 2. I never say anything to them that wasn't developmentally appropriate, and that I also would not condone their father's bad behavior or try and sugarcoat anything- so acknowledging their hurt feelings and their dad's bad behavior, but not adding anything about me or my relationship to their dad to the conversation. This has worked out for me, and now that my kids are in their late teens I do really see the benefit of biting my tongue all those years and being the rational parent my kids can turn to.

I think sending your child into a conversation with information that she might not fully understand, and her letting her negotiate/converse with someone who clearly isn't a rational adult, isn't fair to her. at. all.

And I also have to say that as someone who has a difficult ex, it can be impossible to control any situation with them- I think a lot of poster's hearts are in the right place, but I think that anyone who hasn't been in the same situation can not really give advice about who gets to make the rules. You have to consider the blow back that might happen from your ex, or with your child when negotiating these situations. The one thing I learned from my divorce is the only control I had was over myself, and if I had been able to "make the rules" things would have turned out very differently.
posted by momochan at 5:21 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

My mom always talked about how she was wronged and how evil my father was.

I don't think OP was planning to do that.

When my parents were getting divorced, they told me together. It was a horrifying weekend, for me (I was a little older than your daughter), but in hindsight I am glad that I had both parents to ask questions of in one room.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:02 AM on May 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

"I haven't told her that I know the Ex is moving.
I won't be there when they talk and unfortunately this is not negotiable.
Do I tell her before the weekend or let the ex break the news?"

You know what is negotiable? Having her see your ex at all next weekend. Your flaky irresponsible ex, with whom you have a tense and vicious custody detente, is moving out of the country and wants to see your daughter alone on short notice?

Pardon my French, but fuck no. Call a lawyer today, and then call the state department and ensure that s/he has not started a passport application for your daughter. Tell whoever you speak to that you have a custody issue, they will understand and put a freeze on issuing a passport for her SSN if she does not have one yet, and if she does, they will freeze it so she cannot fly on it for a set time.

I won't bore you with the tale of my own foiled non-custodial parental kidnapping, but your #1 job is to protect that kid, and literally everything else is negotiable. Feel free to memail me if you want more details about my own experience as a child whose parent left the country after being a flaky crappy parent for years.
posted by juniperesque at 6:17 AM on May 14, 2016 [74 favorites]

I don't have a scenario as bad as juniperesque's but I have a lot of personal experience to draw from. And yes- protect that kid. You are the first and only line of defense.

Single parents whose lives remain intertwined with assholes/egotists/flakes etc. know that you can't ever trust anyone else to truly do what is best for her, so therefore you must do everything you can to prevent others from hurting her. This is a big deal. It could be the precursor for some heavy abandonment-related issues. Do not underestimate the degree of care you need to give her at this time. Do not think of yourself, or your Ex.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:28 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

At first glance I thought the advice to call up your lawyer was extreme, BUT once your husband is out of the country, it may be difficult or impossible for you to collect child support.
posted by puddledork at 6:47 AM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Your daughter feels loved and secure and trust with you. Don't risk this out of some outsized sense of obligation to your ex. I think you should give your ex two choices: you tell your daughter now to prepare her for the conversation with him; or you are there when he tells her.

Also, yes, follow the above advice to ensure he can't take her out of the country and to protect your future child support.
posted by JenMarie at 7:12 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been in the same situation, so I guess I get to give advice. In my case, Ex wrote me that he was getting married and not telling the kids until afterwards at their next scheduled visit. I called and told him he could not do that. I suggested coming out with fiancee and taking them to celebratory dinner. He said that was too much trouble (they lived an hour away), but did agree to tell them on the phone before the wedding.
In your case, Ex does not get to unilaterally decide how to give your daughter important news. I'd suggest letting him know that you can tell her together or you will tell her in advance. If you end up telling her, do so in a completely neutral way - do not demonize Ex or Ex's decision. Even loving parents and decent exes end up moving far away sometimes (and some kids have parents in the military). Unless Ex has some weird kidnapping plan (and I would consider that), Ex will probably end up not having a good relationship with your daughter. Kids have to deal with that sometimes. It's sad and hard, but they can survive it. You will need to be the steady rock in your daughter's life. It sounds like you are perfectly capable of doing that. My kids are grown, and they understand and appreciate that I was the one who was always there for them.
posted by FencingGal at 7:18 AM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

> Your child may be resentful that you knew of this and didn't tell her ahead of time.

I agree with this. You have absolutely no obligation, moral or otherwise, to follow your ex's script. Stop thinking of this as your ex's show and think seriously about what you would want to know in your daughter's place. I think the truth is best.
posted by languagehat at 8:01 AM on May 14, 2016 [11 favorites]

I think the concern that your ex is going to abduct your child is overblown. FWIW one parent alone can't get a passport for a child in the US. You both have to be present and in person, or have one of a few specific forms of documentation explaining why the other parent cannot be present. Also, if the other parent has been doing a slow fade and is moving far away, it seems clear to me that doing all of the parenting is not on their agenda nor is it something they're interested in doing anyway. Your daughter is not a priority in their life.

And finally: This is a really tough thing. You can't protect your child from having an awful parent at this point, that ship has sailed. You can't make your ex not break her heart, and that's going to happen no matter if it comes from them or from you. And you can't manage your child's relationship with the other parent. 12 is old enough to recognize that she's getting a raw deal and be angry. Anger is the right reaction. Let her have that. So let ex do the thing, then be prepared to be exceptionally supportive and loving for a few months after.
posted by Andrhia at 8:04 AM on May 14, 2016

I don't know about the abduction danger, but I do know it's nonsense for you to even be considering letting your ex run this show. He wants you to lie by omission to your daughter? F that.

Sit her down now, tell her "I heard something that wouldn't be fair to hide from you: sounds like your dad and Fifi are going to be moving to Mongolia. I'm not sure what it's going to mean for your visits with them yet. He wanted to tell you himself on the weekend, but I don't keep secrets like that from you. You ok?"
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2016 [19 favorites]

I've cancelled overseas work trips and hidden my kids' passports because I have a difficult custody thing with my ex, and have experienced both first and second-hand trying to get kids back from someone else internationally. It is hellishly hard. TALK TO YOUR LAWYER.

Do not do anything, including talking to your ex, until you talk to your lawyer about what would happen if A) your ex moved without your child and B) your ex moved and took your child. What does this mean for shared custody, child support, visitation (she will have to travel internationally? Who's paying for that? She'll travel for two months a year to another country to stay with him and strangers to you? You'll lose any current child support? What happens to any government-linked services she gets through him as a dependent like health insurance?)

If you're financially independent and totally legally secure about your kid, then you only have to think about the conversation.

You aren't going to lose anything by being firm here. What's the worst he'll do, refuse to see her before he leaves? Maybe. It could be what he's hoping to push you to do - have the conversation he's dreading so he has an excuse ("She ruined my carefully planned parenting talk and poisoned my kid against me!") to avoid having to tell his kid he's leaving. But if he does, it's his choice.

The standard therapist advice is to break big news like this to a child together as parents, with an agreed neutral script that doesn't blame anyone and that reassures the kid how much they're loved and will continue to be loved and communicate with the parents.

If he doesn't want to do the standard thing, then ask him bluntly what he plans to do and trust your gut on what he'll actually do. Think about what would be best for your kid and set firm boundaries.

"But as much as she may want to hide it, this has to hurt and I want to minimise the damage if at all possible."

You can't fix this. Your daughter is suffering a huge double loss, both of her dad physically leaving and the hope she had of her dad returning into her life more fully. Trying to minimise her pain can accidentally send her the message that to please or help you, she should hide or downplay her own pain, setting up an awful cycle where she suffers silently.

A third-party really helps. Your kid might prefer art therapy to a talk therapist at that age. Art therapists are a little harder to find but can be very helpful with kids who aren't ready to verbalise powerful feelings.

In the meantime, don't talk about your relationship or feelings about your ex - vent to someone out of her hearing completely. But let her talk or feel openly around you and promise her and show to her that you will listen supportively and neutrally. Tell her she doesn't have to tell you who or why she's upset or angry if it makes her uncomfortable talking about her dad, but that you do want to know that she's angry, sad or upset and that you'll be there for listening, cuddling, ice-cream or whatever she needs.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:25 AM on May 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

Folks, the AskMe is gender neutral about the OP and the ex.
posted by jbenben at 8:52 AM on May 14, 2016 [22 favorites]

Your daughter is suffering a huge double loss, both of her dad physically leaving and the hope she had of her dad returning into her life more fully. Trying to minimise her pain can accidentally send her the message that to please or help you, she should hide or downplay her own pain, setting up an awful cycle where she suffers silently.

Agreeing and disagreeing wit this. Your daughter may be just as happy to be done with your ex and their half-there parenting so this may be a blessing in disguise (I say this as a 12 year old who was like "good riddance" when my father finally moved out of our house but was trapped in my mom's anguish and dramaz until much later). So I would, as the primary caregiver, have a talk with her about this beforehand. This is especially so that you can end run any potential weirdness that the visit itself may bring up (up to and including "Hey your mom and I decided you'll come live with me in X Country for a while" I don't think it's likely but it's a good idea to bring up).

So I'd also back up to whatever agreement you have, preferably legally. If you do NOT have a legal agreement, now is the time to get one and, honestly, tough shit if your ex doesn't want one. In some parenting arrangements moving to another country would actually be illegal without agreement of both parties, so I'd look at just how much your ex is "getting away with" by unilaterlly making this move. At the same time, as a partner of someone who had an ex who fucked off to another country, it was actually glorious to be without her drama for a few years. Now she's back and we have to deal with her flaky "Oh I'll take the kid this weekend" and then not showing up.

And yes to what other people have said, you still get to have a life--going out if you want, dating if you want, not doing those things if you don't want--as a full-time single parent. Many people do. I'd suggest you find your own counselor or some other support (in addition to legal support which I'd get yesterday) as you process these emotions of your own. Kids are resilient, don't presume that what is difficult for you emotionally is also going to be similarly difficult for her, try to give her her own space to process her own feelings. I am sorry you are dealing with this, just another person in your corner to say "Wow, what bullshit. I hope it turns out ok"
posted by jessamyn at 9:37 AM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, if you are by chance a same-sex couple, please get advice from a lawyer/organization that has some expertise.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:43 AM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

My parents split up when I was a teenager. It is a very, very different situation from your parents splitting up when you're 5. She likely understands way more than you think she does, and she almost certainly has her own feelings about all of it that have nothing to do with you.

One thing that was very true is that watching custody stuff play out between your parents is VERY revealing, and it's not as hard to see how each parent feels and how things are likely to play out as a teenager. In the way that it would be if you were talking about a grade schooler. No matter how hard your parents try to keep things private and Hand Down Big Announcements, you see what's coming because you have better observational and reasoning skills than a small child would.

I'm not saying she will take this as welcome news, but I think you're catastrophizing more than strictly necessary and projecting a lot of your own feelings onto the situation. It should be fine for your ex to tell her the news on their own terms, without you being there. (Though I love the "I'll be around all weekend if you want to call and talk about ANYTHING" idea.) In a few years, your daughter will be an adult, and it will be assumed that she can hear Big Scary News like this without you to mediate for her.

This is big news, and it's hard to tell from your question how she will actually feel about it, but even if she is devastated, there are ways to move forward. She could visit, which depending on the country would probably seem exciting and cool to a teenager. Skype exists. Facebook exists. This is not the end of the relationship. And you dictating to her what her feelings should be is going to make things harder, not easier. Try to arm yourself with solutions and reasons this isn't the end of their relationship. Be a helper and facilitator here, not someone throwing up a huge wall of AND THIS IS WHY YOUR OTHER PARENT IS THE WORST. (Which is something my parents *still do* after 20 years divorced, and still damages our relationship well into my adulthood.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:47 AM on May 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

I just want to warn you, because I have been in this position. If you have no formal custody agreement then your ex can take your child anywhere they want to and it is not illegal.

The police will not be able to arrest them for kidnapping and there is a good chance if they keep your child there long enough that the judge will give them custody because of continuity of care.

In the eyes of the law, they are simply a custodial parent who took their child when they moved. My ex did this to me on Christmas Day, 20 years ago, and because he was able to stay in California long enough to establish residency, he was granted physical custody when the courts were finally involved.

I managed to force him to come back to our state, by filing official separation papers and demanding the return of our child. However, the only slap on his wrist was that he was no longer allowed to take our child out of state without my permission.

Make him come to your house to deliver this news.
posted by headspace at 9:51 AM on May 14, 2016 [11 favorites]

Selfishly I'm all "Awesome! fuck off and don't come back".
How do I make sure my daughter doesn't see this?

I personally would not hide it.

I and my son's were all equally happy their dad never once exercised his visitation rights. So, I am wondering why you are so sure your daughter is " hiding it, but must be hurt." My ex liked to think that I brainwashed the kids into not liking him. Au contraire. I regularly told them to be grateful he was not an addict and not beating them and they should just give him a wide berth. They figured out all on their own he was a jerk.

I would probably tell her beforehand and talk to her about "Yeah, this is a shitty, gosh do we love Drama, way of announcing it." and try to innoculate her from them screwing with her head and her feelings in the process of telling her. But if your daughter also feels "Fuck all y'all." maybe it is time for you to honor that and stop making assumptions about what she should/must be feeling.
posted by Michele in California at 11:02 AM on May 14, 2016

I'm not saying ex would take your child out of the country, but you may want to keep child's passport on you at all times.
posted by SillyShepherd at 12:09 PM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I got divorced, I had legitimate concerns my ex would take my daughter out of the country. I filed a passport alert so I would at least be notified when and if an application was filed. Looks like they have changed the rules to require two signatures, but it would be easy to spoof this I think.
Here is a link to the State Dept. rules along with contact numbers at DOS.
posted by rudd135 at 4:09 PM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

If she already has a passport, lock it up. Put it in a safe deposit box if you have one.

A parent who is disengaging is probably not going to kidnap, but an ounce of prevention, blah, blah, blah.

Please do not engage with her on the level of Ex is a bad person who is doing a bad thing. Even if she frames it that way, don't go there. Acknowledge her feelings and opinions as valid, of course. And obviously don't express support or approval of Ex and their actions. Be an empathic Switzerland. Just make sure that, besides not poisoning the well yourself, you're not assisting her to do so also. She has a long life ahead of her, and she might not always feel so angry towards her other parent. If she softens later in life, she will definitely remember the stance you took.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 5:10 PM on May 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

It does sound like kidnapping is a risk.

It's probably a small risk -- but if there's even a 1% chance of it, it would have such a huge impact on you and your daughter that it is worth thinking about and taking precautions. You'll need to think about what those precautions would be.

I wouldn't count on hiding passports or the state department alert to help. That will only help if they are planning on using a passport with the child's name, which might not be the case.
posted by yohko at 11:10 AM on May 15, 2016

I noticed you keep referring to your ex as "them" which makes me wonder if you are a same-sex couple.... which in turn makes me wonder if this child is even biologically your ex's.... or perhaps it is biologically your ex's but not yours? I assume the former because you refer to the child as "my daughter" and never "our daughter".

I bring this up because so many of the legalities in regards to child support and everything else others have brought up here may not even apply depending on who is legally considered the child's parents right now.

In regards to whether you should tell her though- I say yes. She she know before the visit. I would've resented a parent that didn't tell me and instead sent me off all chipper to a place where they knew my heart would be crushed.
posted by rancher at 9:43 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

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