Is stability and consistency relevant in determining visitation?
April 18, 2021 3:51 PM   Subscribe

I’ve posted here a few times regarding a co parent relationship (if you can even call it go parenting) between myself and the father of my five year old daughter, and am looking for advice on updating or upholding a current custody/visitation agreement. Should I modify an existing order in which I have full physical custody and father has no overnights but visitation rights?

Long story short but her father and I split when she was one, I ended things after realizing I had been emotionally abused into a shell of who I was and after he showed up at my home intoxicated for unknown reasons - which resulted in a 2 year restraining order from me, our daughter was not included in the restraining order but I won full physical custody with visitation set for once a weekend for a few hours and no over nights until he showed consistency and that he had his own stable home with a room and belongings for her. The reason for this is because he was known to house hop, staying from friend to friend or renting rooms. My question is, four years later he is low trying to see her on his schedule for overnights, without a place to call his or her own, and a very unstable life. Do I put my demands for a stable home and room for her before considering overnights, or do I put that aside and consider?

Her father is mid 40s and although he recited from military for 29 years service, since four years, he has shown no signs of stability with career or his life. He comes and goes as he pleases, and hasn’t kept to his visitation agreement for years. He will find a new job to follow, or a woman, and move across the country or to another state to “for his career”, he will “say goodbye for now to his daughter,” and then a couple months later he will call and say it didn’t work out and that he is moving back, and expects me to drop any plans or anything to cater to his schedule and assume she will stay a weekend with him at a hotel, when she has never stayed a night with him ever. I do not want to, not have I ever, tried to keep their relationship from developing, all I’ve asked is for a stable credible and environment for her before I even consider overnights. The problem is, if he can’t control the situation, he goes off listing all the reasons for why he feels I am a terrible mother, toxic, a negative energy and threatens me to court. Which is fine, I know none of his words are true, but I just don’t know how much more I can take, or what is even best for my daughter. Of course she lives her dad bc he’s fun, he comes for a wknd, calls her all the time and manipulates her. I never have not allowed a relationship, but I find myself feeling guilty, and I don’t know why - I don’t ever want her thinking I kept her from him and I fear the volatile things he will put in her ear.

I have a very stable great paying job, home, family friends and an overall great life. I do not agree or like the fact that he can move from state to state, come and try to be a dad and expect anything he asks bc all I want for this little girl is stability and consistency. He now lives three hours away and is telling me that it is wrong that I refuse to allow his daughter to visit for wknds, or stay with him when he’s here. This is after berating me as a mom and person. I have don’t everything and given everything I’ve had for this little girl for four years as a single mother with the help of my friends and family.

I don’t know what to do and am looking for advice on, is it right of me to continue to hold my boundary and demand more consistency and stability and refuse overnights until he meets our custody and visitation legally bound document? I’m so drawings emotionally, and it destroys me every time he shows up asking to see her. Any advice would be great?
posted by MamaBee223 to Human Relations (20 answers total)
Your daughter can't defend herself if she is taken into an unsafe, unsuitable or abusive situation, so you totally should hold to those boundaries. You've no way of knowing what living situations he might be taking her into and if they're dangerous or not.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:03 PM on April 18, 2021 [25 favorites]

why do you want your daughter to have a relationship with someone unreliable, unstable, not credible...?

My mother did almost everything wrong, but the one thing she did right was keep my father out of my life.

Consider the possibility that perhaps no father is better than a bad father. It sure was for me.
posted by WaywardPlane at 4:03 PM on April 18, 2021 [29 favorites]

Her safety comes first, always and with no exceptions.

I can feel how exhausted you are by his shenanigans but it's gotta be water off a duck's back. He can threaten all he wants. You know the court isn't going to send the kid to a hotel. No overnights until he has a safe and stable home.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:03 PM on April 18, 2021 [13 favorites]

I hope you can find some additional support for mitigating the effects of his abuse, but you must - for the purposes of this particular set of arrangements - focus like a laser on your daughter's best interests.

Which are to have a safe stable place to sleep every night. To not be in the custody of an abuser for more hours than are absolutely unavoidable.

Whenever I hear someone trying to work out the right thing to do in situations like these, there often seems to be an underlying belief that a child should have a relationship with all their relatives even if those people are not good or safe. There's also often an underlying belief that a single parent - let's be real, single mother - is a bad and shameful thing, and being generous with custody regardless of circumstances will give you partial credit.

That's not true. You owe her a life without abuse in it, and you know who he is already. He's going to treat her like he treats you. And however long it takes you to feel the truth of that, you at least need to use that information as a basis of reasoning in all matters regarding her well-being.

Is he paying (or being garnished or penalized) for child support? If so, he wants overnights so he can reduce his financial obligation.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:12 PM on April 18, 2021 [32 favorites]

You are not keeping him from his daughter. He can see her one afternoon a week, every single week.

He also knows exactly what he has to do for his daughter to spend the weekend with him: find a living situation with a bedroom for her and stay there for some months. If this was really about your daughter, he would do that.

He sounds very stressful and draining to co-parent with. Please, for your daughter's sake, don't let him wear you down with this bullshit. Draw on your friends and family for support, find a therapist you trust, check in here when you need to, do everything you can to be strong for your daughter.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:14 PM on April 18, 2021 [45 favorites]

Should I modify an existing order in which I have full physical custody and father has no overnights but visitation rights?

No. You should consider doing anything possible to minimize contact between you and this abusive person. If you have access to a domestic violence hotline or service, this might be something they can help plan for. He is abusing you in an attempt to get more control over your daughter. This has to feel TERRIBLE but you are a great mother who is doing a great job with her. The problem here is him.

You should also consider getting a lawyer, or talking to one about how to minimize contact between him and you. It's one thing to have brief telephone calls about logistics. it's quite another -- and completely unacceptable -- for him to to use phone contact as a means of ongoing abuse. This might mean that you need to modify custody. For example, because of his poor behavior, it may be that from now on he has to provide requests to a third party, in writing, in advance.

In any event, I would consider limiting contact to writing or voice mails only (as in, let him write to you or let him leave you a voice mail, but don't talk to him on the phone). This will help you build up a set of documents to show the court if you need the court to get involved.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:24 PM on April 18, 2021 [25 favorites]

You are doing the right thing to hold him to the conditions that were already set out. And even if your daughter is too young to realize that now, I’m confident she will eventually.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:44 PM on April 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: by the way, I don't know where you are but in my county it's 100% standard operating procedure for the court to order that ALL communication between co-parents happen on "ourfamilywizard" which is a coparenting administration app. Among other things, it means that everything happens by text and everything is permanently logged. All misbehavior, all lies, all threats, everything is there to be reviewed by the court whenever it needs to be. (I'm not sure if it also handles voice -- but the point is, that no communication happens except what is on this app.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:59 PM on April 18, 2021 [24 favorites]

I think he's appealing to the wrong authority. If he wants his daughter to stay overnight, you are not the one who gets to say no. The court is the one that has already said no. If he wants the court to say yes, that's who he should be appealing to.

Can you reply along the lines of 'it's not my decision, it's out of my hands, it's not me you need to persuade' and so on? And if not to him, then certainly to yourself: you have an objective judgement - literally - that you are doing the right thing.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 5:12 PM on April 18, 2021 [10 favorites]

In your shoes I would be giving this abusive asshole the benefit of zero doubts.

No, he doesn't get to take your child away from her home. End of.

if he can’t control the situation, he goes off listing all the reasons for why he feels I am a terrible mother, toxic, a negative energy and threatens me to court

Still an abuser, then.

I find myself feeling guilty, and I don’t know why

Because abuse works.

He now lives three hours away and is telling me that it is wrong that I refuse to allow his daughter to visit for wknds, or stay with him when he’s here.

He's a selfish, lying, manipulative asshole.

Should I modify an existing order in which I have full physical custody and father has no overnights but visitation rights?

Yeah. Seek to have further restrictions put on his visitation rights.

Small children don't need abusers in their lives.
posted by flabdablet at 5:34 PM on April 18, 2021 [20 favorites]

I'm in the midst of a change of custody of my older child. One thing my att'y keeps saying is that the change has to be agreed on by the parents- every last item - before the judge will agree to it. Both parties have to sign a parenting plan which is then sent to the Judge. This may not be exactly how it is where you are, but it is how it is in Georgia, a state not known for progressive ideas. Luckily ex and I are on the same page, child wants this change, OK fine.

And during the original more combative custody fight, yes, stability made a great deal of difference. I cannot imagine any judge agreeing to overnight visits in hotel rooms or "a friend's house" because someone does not have a permanent place to live.

Don't give in, from your side of it he is bad news.
posted by rudd135 at 5:38 PM on April 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

In some places, it can be prohibitive to afford even a 2 bedroom apartment if you don't have a professional-level income, and I can picture that it would be a real heartache for some parents who dearly want to spend time with their kids but can't afford the kind of setup needed to provide appropriate stability.* It doesn't sound like that is the situation for your ex, though, it sounds much more like he'd rather have the flexibility to do exactly what he wants, when he wants - and I'm sure you'd like that too, except you have prioritised providing the consistency your child needs.

If you hold firm (which I think you should, alongside scaling down your ex's ability to continue manipulating and abusing you as several above have suggested) then how likely is it that he will take you back to court to request a variation to the custody order? You might have a better sense of how much of a hassle/financial impost this would be for you if it happened, and also how courts in your area are likely to decide. However, if a court decided 4 years ago that he could not have overnight visitation until he had a stable situation to be your daughter's alternative home, and he hasn't been making a meaningful effort to make that happen, it seems unlikely a similar court would go against that just because your ex wants things his own way.

[*When travelling in Europe a couple of years back we stayed in several AirBnB apartments that appeared to function as home for Dad when he had access, and he presumably stayed on someone's couch at other times while letting out the apartment. I'm sure this also has a significant barrier to entry but shows that a parent who prioritises seeing their kid can do creative things to get around real challenges. Your ex seems to be doing the opposite of that.]
posted by Cheese Monster at 6:10 PM on April 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Is it right of me to continue to hold my boundary and demand more consistency and stability and refuse overnights until he meets our custody and visitation legally bound document?" Yes, absolutely, a billion percent. Other people have covered the stability for raising a child, and the better ways to let the courts do their job in regards to the ex continuing to be abusive... And I'm not typically a paranoid person, but I think you have to consider him a flight risk. What do you do if, on his second weekend stay with your daughter, he decided to go on a cross country trip with her?

Odds are high that he's just lazy, just wants the benefits of having her around without having to drive six hours each time. But he's an adult, actions have consequences, and you certainly shouldn't go out of your way to cover his ass just because he's feeling entitled or that having a child constraints his freedom to be a vagabond.

No, you're in the right. Stick to what needs to be done for your daughter. Don't let him have his cake and eat yours too. Best case, your daughter is staying god knows where, with whom, and your ex keeps 'requesting' that you do more and more of the driving. Ugh.
posted by Jacen at 3:24 AM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My heart was screaming “NO, NO” as I read this. Don’t give in to him on this. Expanded visitation with this person isn’t what’s best for your daughter. I know I’m not saying anything others haven’t already said, but perhaps our numbers will help you feel more secure in holding your ground.
posted by eirias at 4:39 AM on April 19, 2021 [7 favorites]

I would worry that it would cause problems later down the line to informally vary a custody arrangement in a situation like yours. If he wants to make a change, there will be processes for him to request one, which he can find out. Consult a lawyer if that happens.
posted by plonkee at 5:47 AM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Just to add to the advice already offered - I think you're maybe considering giving in to his requests because a part of your brain is exhausted and feels like doing that will finally win you a quiet life and shut him up with his criticism and endless requests.

It won't. If you give in to this, he'll start on something else, bigger, more complicated, more risky for your daughter. This is not a "Give him this one thing and it'll all be OK" situation. In fact, it's the reverse. You have to hold this line to stop his demands and abuse escalating further. Sticking to your guns is - even if it doesn't feel like it - actually the line of least resistance to a (relatively) quiet, steady life in the long term, particularly for your daughter and probably also for you.
posted by penguin pie at 6:44 AM on April 19, 2021 [15 favorites]

You've described someone who can convince himself that you're an abusive mother denying him access to his child, and who also has a lot of history moving across state lines without much notice, and who doesn't have any settled home that it would be unpleasant to leave behind... He sounds impulsive and self-centered and vindictive. Please do not dismiss the potential for kidnapping, here.

I'm writing this as someone who was the attempted target of kidnapping by my biological father, who was impulsive and had been afforded only supervised visitation rights. Not to sound alarmist or induce panic, or anything. This is just another additional factor to keep in mind, and further justification for standing your ground for your daughter's safety.
posted by meese at 9:15 AM on April 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Normally, I read all the answers before giving my own input, but for one, I've had a very long workday, and secondly, I am you in 15 years. And it worked out.
You are so much doing the right thing, in every aspect. You are a hero for your child, and I'm certain that one day, you will be for the father and his family too. I know I am.
As you say, the time you are going through is really tough. I really, really understand. But I hope you will hold on and keep going. Once, when my daughter was three or four, I gave in and let her father pick her up at the kindergarten and take her home for one night. He never turned up. Had it not been for an amazing teacher at the kindergarten, I would have faced serious problems with the authorities, because my ex had no right to overnights, and I had no right to let him. The court decides, not you and not me.
Eventually, my ex found his way back to normalcy. And we grew into sharing duties and worries very, very well. We are good friends today, and our daughter has two parents she can rely on. It was a long and winding road, but in my opinion it was so worth it.
posted by mumimor at 12:30 PM on April 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Please stop letting him abuse you by speaking on the phone. Make every interaction go through the parenting app, and keep protecting your daughter. Many hugs.
posted by cyndigo at 1:19 PM on April 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

Yes, hold your boundary, for the good of your child. If you attempt to modify the custody order, ask that the court only allow him to contact you in writing, and that visitation be supervised or not at all. This man is still abusing you. There is no reason to believe he will not also manipulate and abuse your child. Who cares what is going on with him, he is not going to be a good father, ever, and needs to be supervised so he does not harm your child.
posted by KayQuestions at 6:46 PM on April 19, 2021

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