Losing contact with one parent due to a separation or divorce is often traumatic for a child to experience. Whether the relationship was secure prior to the family law action or not, suddenly not seeing or hearing from a parent can have consequences that impact the child for years to come.
For some families, however, this type of absence may be temporary. The ability of a child to form good relationships with both parents is essential as long as there is no violence or history of abuse, but the reappearance of an absent parent can be disorienting. Custodial parents in this type of situation are often understandably worried about the ramifications, especially when it comes to how it will impact their child and whether the change is going to be permanent.
A parent who is re-entering a child’s life may experience impatience, joy and grief – joy at being in their child’s life again, but impatience at the slow building of their bond and grief for the time they were away from their child, regardless of how that came to pass.
As with any other parenting endeavor post-divorce or separation, this is a process that is going to be a team effort. To position everyone for success, here are three factors a returning parent and custodial parent need to consider.
Look at the Legal Side
Custodial parents sometimes go for sole custody when the other parent won’t or can’t be a part of their child’s lives. The sole custody may have included court guidelines that allowed for visitation between the noncustodial parent and that child. However, if there has been a long absence, that visitation schedule may no longer be appropriate. A custodial parent should speak to a family law attorney as soon as they hear from their previously-absent co-parent. An attorney will be able to answer questions and assist in the creation of a new plan.
A returning parent should also talk to a family law attorney once they decide to re-enter their child’s life. Part of this returning process includes showing that the returning parent is committed to the responsibility that comes with raising children, and this means addressing outstanding obligations such as unpaid child support.
Have a Plan to Take Things Slow
A custodial parent should work with the returning parent and their own attorney to create a clear plan for contact between the child and that returning parent. While the plan will depend on the circumstances of the case, it should reflect a slow and steady pace to lessen the impact of the major change on the child. This plan should address how frequent contact will be and how it will evolve, whether contact needs to be supervised, the method of communication between parents, and other factors. The returning parent should stick to the plan. Even though they may be tempted to rush things out of excitement, that’s not good for the child and may make the custodial parent balk.
Consider the Emotions of All Involved
Naturally, a custodial parent may resent an absent parent who has just returned. However, he or she needs to keep in mind that the child must be shielded from his or her personal views of the absent parent. The child’s outlook should not be influenced by what the custodial parent feels, no matter how understandable those feelings may be. Depending on the child’s age, the custodial parent can also see how the child feels about the reunification process and the pace at which it is moving.
A returning parent may be feeling anxious about the process and how he or she is viewed by the child and the custodial parent. This is normal, and it’s also important for the returning parent to try to understand the custodial parent’s point of view.
The process of a previously-absent parent returning to a child’s life is complicated and must be handled with care. Both the custodial and returning parent need to give this process the time it deserves and work with a family law attorney for the best chance of a successful outcome.