When you’ve acted as the sole parent to your child for a while, it’s an uncomfortable circumstance when the other, previously absent, parent tries to return. There’s no perfect way to look at the situation where an absent father now wants contact, but we’ve gathered our five top tips on how to reintroduce the absent parent back into your life here. With this, you’ll have the tools you need to create a plan to safely and responsibly bring your child’s other parent back into the picture.
What Exactly is an Absent Parent?
An absent parent can be defined as the person who hasn’t exercised their custody and/or visitation rights consistently or at all. A parent that occasionally visits or communicates with their child but rarely has a presence in the decision-making process of the child’s life can also be considered absentee. Depending upon how long the absent parent has been out of the picture, you may be able to appeal to the family court system to terminate their parental rights, especially if a new partner in the picture would like to adopt the child as their own.
An absent parent is someone who goes an extended period of time without contact and makes no or minimal effort to stay in contact with the child. They can occasionally call to request time with your child, but their lack of follow-through or consistency is their defining characteristic. On the other hand, a parent who misses one of two visitation days because of a scheduling conflict is not considered an absent parent.
6 Tips to Reintroducing an Absent Parent
1. Consider the Emotions of Everyone Involved
As a parent, you’re already familiar with the feelings you and your child have toward the absentee parent. However, it’s common to have complex and conflicting emotions about reintroducing an absent parent in yourself that may contrast the hopeful, excited emotions your child may show. In these situations, it’s important to first consider how your emotions may rub your child the wrong way, and vice versa, so you can create and maintain a plan that prioritizes your and your child’s mental health.
2. Start with Virtual Communication
Before in-person meetings, consider arranging virtual calls between your co-parent and child so they can gradually re-acclimate to being in each other’s lives. Depending upon how long the other parent has been out of the picture, your child will need a space to feel comfortable and get to know them all over again. If you jump into visitations right away, your child may feel too stressed and overwhelmed to properly interact. Ultimately, this will protect your child’s mental well-being if the other parent decides to slip back out of your life and become absent again.
3. Get Everything in Writing
When an absent father or parent now wants contact renewed, it’s easy to gloss over certain legalities and jump straight into discussing a new visitation schedule. However, getting on the same page with things like visitation stipulations and custody requirements are legally necessary, and sometimes required, before you can consider modifying your current parenting agreement. With each conversation you and the returning co-parent have, make sure you put everything down in writing to create the paper trail you can refer back to when it’s time to change something or involve your attorney.
4. Take Things Slow & Know When to Enforce Boundaries
When reintroducing an absent parent, they or your child may be eager to jump right in with as much shared custody and one-on-one visitations as possible right away. While you’ll get pushback, the healthy thing to do is start slow with short one-on-one visits or sticking around to supervise conversations at first. Then, over time, you can progressively increase the frequency and duration of the co-parent’s time with your child. When you take this approach, you’ll have the ability to set clear boundaries from the start and catch boundary violations and correct them before they become a bigger issue.
5. Utilize Reintegration Therapy
It is a good idea to utilize a therapist who is familiar with reintegration therapy. Often times children will have strong feelings about seeing the absent parent, may have bad memories and will need some support and coaching through the process of reitegrating that parent back into their life. Reintegration therapy can be an excellent tool to help re-forge the bond between parent and child while staying focused on the child’s well-being and mental health through the process.
6. Have a Backup Plan Ready
As important as it is to work through this process with a positive attitude, you should also have a realistic outlook and understand that absent parents rarely stick around long term, especially if they’ve disappeared and reappeared once already. If you expect your child’s co-parent might ghost you during a scheduled pickup or visitation, have an alternative plan ready for the day so you and your child aren’t dwelling on the disappointment all day. This could be anything from going to the park or last-minute playdate with a friend to a visit to their grandparents’ house.
Whether this is your first attempt at bringing your child’s other parent in for visitations or not, you now have a clearer picture of how to do it. Also, while reintroducing an absent parent back into your child’s life may be a stressful, confusing process, but you don’t have to do it alone. Contact the Law Office of Dorene A. Kuffer for guidance on finding the best legal approach to your family’s situation.