How to Deal with an Absentee Parent’s Return

Life is prone to throwing unexpected curveballs, and one challenging situation that some divorced parents can encounter is the unexpected return of their absentee former spouse. Whatever the reason for their absence, the impact that it has on the custodial parent and their children can be dramatic. However, their return often causes a greater degree of angst and emotional conflict than their initial absence.

Why parents may be absent in their children’s lives

Divorce is an emotionally complex process. Some people find divorce more difficult to cope with than others. Although the courts always try to ensure continuity and security for the children, it is impossible to account for the decision of a parent to disappear from the lives of their children following the completion of the divorce.

This can happen for a variety of reasons: a domestic abuse or other criminal charge has been brought against a parent and they have received jail time or were prohibited from seeing their children; the parent could simply give up and distance themselves; the parent could move away to pursue career goals or another relationship.

There are many reasons people cut ties with their family, through choice or actions, and the emotions stirred up by these events will likely drive the success of their future reintegration into the family unit.

Emotions likely to be encountered

Both the children and the custodial parent will experience a range of emotions upon the return of an absentee parent and these will largely be driven by the circumstances under which the absentee parent departed, how long they were gone and how they return.

There may be feelings of hope and even excitement at the prospect of a fresh start and the sharing of parental responsibilities. The children may be delighted to regain their absent parent. Some custodial parents will feel resentment at their return, particularly if the absent parent has absconded from all parental and financial duties and left them in hardship. In some cases, they have successfully rebuilt their lives and do not wish for their efforts to be minimized or damaged.

Equally as likely will be feelings of resentment, disappointment, frustration, anger, confusion and apprehension. Why are they back, will they stay, and will they leave again are questions that both custodial parents and children will ask themselves upon hearing the news of the absent parent’s return.

A parent who abandons their child or children without a “good” reason to do so will likely not be welcomed with open arms by their family. Even with the best intentions, care needs to be taken in trying to reintegrate into their children’s lives.

Handling the absent parent’s return

There is no doubt that the return of an absent parent will have a dramatic effect on the family dynamic, and open and honest communication will be essential to move forward and establish a new status quo.

Both parents must discuss the reintegration without the children present, and ideally before the children know about their absent parent’s return. Expectations must be clarified, and concerns must be addressed. It is vital that the children’s well-being is prioritized and that a co-parenting solution is developed that satisfies all parties and will be upheld. A slow reintroduction will be important and therapy will almost certainly be a necessity.

A returning parent can expect to meet with a lot of resistance and may find themselves in Court with the other parent actively trying to block their return into their children’s lives.

Lawyers who are experienced in all aspects of family law in Santa Fe will usually recommend that each parent’s role and responsibilities are documented, visitation schedules and communication protocols are established. Some may find it helpful to seek legal advice or enlist the support of a mediator to aid in this process, particularly if the impact of the initial absenteeism was great and the custodial parent wishes to establish legally enforceable boundaries going forward.

Prioritize the children’s wellbeing

For children to thrive emotionally, physically and developmentally, they need a supportive and nurturing environment. Those who have experienced the trauma of an absent parent are likely to be unsettled by their return. Both parents must accept that there will be a transition period as the family navigates their new co-parenting situation and put in place an appropriate support system to help their children adjust.

This may require enlisting the support of counselors, the child’s school, trusted family members and other reunification professionals [1] to create an environment in which the child feels safe exploring their emotions while they adjust to their new way of life.

When you should seek legal support

Dealing with the return of an absentee parent is a challenging and emotionally complex experience. If they wish to reintegrate into the family dynamic, legally enforceable rules, responsibilities and boundaries must be established, so it is wise to consult with an appropriate family law attorney as soon as possible.

They will be able to advise on custody arrangements, child support and parental rights [2]. They will also be able to help with signposting families to appropriate mediators and professionals who can help them adjust to this significant life event. By engaging the services of a family law professional, conflict and confusion will be minimized and the best interests of the children can be protected at all times.

If you wish to establish a legal support system to help you navigate a complex family law situation, contact the team at the Law Office of Dorene A. Kuffer today. We are experienced in all aspects of family law and will handle your case with compassion and sensitivity, helping you arrive at the best possible outcome for you and your children.