Missed Parent Visits Are Hurtful

Divorced parents should never miss a scheduled visit unless there is a compelling, absolutely unavoidable event of near-life-threatening proportion.

by Honorable Anne Kass. Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico

Children's books are beginning to address issues of divorce where once they spoke only about happy, intact families. One new book, Taxi! Taxi! by Cari Best addresses one of the most common and most damaging parental blunders we observe in family court--the missed visitation.

All too frequently the children are happily anticipating a visit and the parent they're to visit shows up late, or not at all. In Taxi! Taxi!, the author describes the anticipation this way:

"Some Sundays Tina waits and waits. And dances and counts. And sings and jumps. But Papi doesn't come"

Tina's mother doesn't use the event as an opportunity to criticize the father, as some mothers in my court have done. Instead the mother tries to sooth Tina's hurt feelings by suggesting that daddy must be busy driving his taxi. But Tina knows better! Sunday is her daddy's day off.

As I read this book I remembered a college student who was observing my court as a class project. She watched one case in which the mother complained about the father missing visits. The father admitted he did sometimes, but he had a dozen good excuses.

I told the parents that children experience missed visits as abandonment and rejection. They also worry that they are being replaced by someone else. I explained that these are extremely hurtful experiences from which children sometimes never recover.

After these parents left my courtroom, the college student, a 21-year-old young woman, began to cry. She told the story of her father missing visits. The last one was on a Friday night when she was 10. She was waiting on the front steps with her packed suitcase when the phone rang. Her mom told her that dad had to work late. To make it not hurt so badly the mother took her to a pizza place for a treat. As they were eating their pizza her dad walked in, with a woman. The college student said she decided that night she wouldn't visit her dad ever again. The dad never tried to make amends. Eleven years later, the memory still reduced her to tears.

Sometimes, when parents repeatedly miss visits, the Court will increase the amount of child support above what the guidelines require. That is done to enable the custodial parent to pay for counseling so the child can try to understand that it is not his or her fault. Divorced parents should never miss a scheduled visit unless there is a compelling, absolutely unavoidable event of near-life-threatening proportion.

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