Vivian shares a unique perspective on how to shield your kids from the instability divorce creates by offering a revolutionary alternative.
As young as age two, a child can express to a court judge which parent he prefers to reside with after his parents’ divorce. A child’s wishes are taken into serious consideration. After that, however, the court system presumes to know what is best for the child until he is emancipated, even though the courts are completely detached and unacquainted with his family dynamic. The child has no voice in one significant matter that affects his most important and informative years—overnight visitation with the non-custodial parent.
The goal of overnight visitation with non-custodial parents is well-intentioned. The rationale is to maintain the bond between the parent and child for the healthy emotional development of the child. After all, the parents have divorced each other, not their children. Is this really the best solution? The divided lifestyle opens a Pandora’s Box of issues no one seems to address. Let’s consider seven reasons why overnight visitation with the non-custodial parent should be optional.
1. Lack of Stability
No matter how much you enjoy vacation, there’s nothing sweeter than returning to your own home, showering in your own bathroom, and sleeping in your own bed. You may have enjoyed the amenities of a tropical resort, but like Dorothy affirmed in The Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like home. Children of divorce need to have the stability of one home base.
Trying to live between two households is like living in a sand castle that is swept away every weekend by the tide. It is as rootless and nomadic as a travelling salesman. Divorced parents have a penchant for forgetting to send back coats, clothes, and shoes that were worn during the transition, which leads to more stressful feuding. When friends want to schedule a play date, the child has to remember where she will be that day to know which phone number and address to provide. One elementary student had a meltdown in class when asked for a field trip permission slip because he didn’t know where any of his things were—they kept getting lost in the shuffle!
For a child to thrive, they can’t feel like they are living in divorce purgatory—always in limbo. One teacher shared that children of divorce very noticeably compartmentalize their lives. It stems from behavior requirements and expectations at mom’s house and dad’s house not aligning. The need to compartmentalize feelings and actions severs a switch in a child’s emotions that sparks empathy, compassion, and authenticity in other areas of their lives. If you want to raise a living, breathing, emotionally healthy human instead of a robot, it’s time to consider a stronger foundation. When the non-custodial parent remarries or cohabitates, the lack of stability is even more pronounced.
2. Step-Parent Resentment
As if life isn’t already topsy-turvy from the divorce, what happens when the non-custodial parent remarries? In the majority of cases, custody is awarded to the mother, so we are going to assume dad is the non-custodial parent. While the child struggles to find solid footing at dad’s house and adjust to a new normal, a stepmom enters the mix. Do you think the stepmom is going to simply adapt herself to her husband’s environment and melt into the background? Of course not! She is going to nest! That means she will change the décor, the menus, the rules, and the routines. If she has children of her own, she might have the best of intentions to blend the family; however, her natural instinct to protect and elevate her kids above stepchildren will become apparent. Even if she has no children initially, a new baby may eventually be the last straw that divides the family camp into dad’s past versus dad’s future.
Not all stepmoms fall into this trap. Some manage to bury their resentment, stifle their irritation, and choose a higher ground. Sadly, most stepmoms grow increasingly hostile to the burr under the saddle. For a stepchild, this creates an unwelcoming and cold environment. No matter how much she loves her dad, she is not afforded an opportunity to interact with him one-on-one. Every other weekend, one night each week, and every other holiday, she is forced to brave her stepmom’s territory where the battle lines are clearly drawn. Dad pretends not to notice his wife’s antagonistic reception because he would rather not deal with conflict. What kind of life is this for a child? If given a choice, she would much prefer staying home with her own mother where she is loved, celebrated, and appreciated rather than remain at a home where she is treated like an interruption.
3. Unfair to Half-Siblings
While courts splutter about legislating fairness to stepkids, they are blind to the unfairness this creates for half siblings. Assuming, again, the mother is awarded custody, the father’s finances are raped. When supplying the numbers for the child support calculation, the father can only deduct a miniscule amount for the children with his new wife, yet his ex is awarded an inequitable, top-heavy amount for the children from their former union. In one case, for example, a father has two children with his current wife, each providing a $200 deduction. Yet, the court requires him to pay $800 per month for the one child he has with his first wife. According to the liberal court system, the children born after dad’s first marriage have less value. Since the support calculation is based on income, the mom can be a lazy sloth and be rewarded while dad’s hard work is penalized. The system does not level the playing field—it discriminates against the non-custodial parent and attacks the quality of life for half siblings.
When children of divorce maintain overnight visitation with the non-custodial parent, there is pressure to roll out the red carpet for them upon their arrival. Half siblings must watch as princess is fawned over by all the relatives, as if her arrival is some gala event. She is taken places and given surprises to make her feel her presence is cause for celebration. If she has to vent about life with mom, her tales and need for dad’s counseling take pre-eminence over all else. She expects the spotlight. Despite the brevity of her visit, she has to have her own room and space to make sure she feels at home, no matter how much this inconveniences her half siblings. Dad seems more lenient with her too and allows things to slide that would land a punishment for them.
Half siblings like privacy, and the intrusion of princess and her snooping, prying eyes is uncomfortable. What intimate details does she share with others after she leaves? Sometimes, half siblings notice things are missing from their rooms after her visit. Does she steal from them? Dad vehemently denies the possibility, but they have doubts that make them feel less secure when she’s in the house.
4. Different House Rules
Kids are able to adapt to the rules of different environments. They understand and follow classroom rules. They know how to act in the library, church, and at a restaurant. It’s different, however, when divorced parents have separate rules for each home because parental rules are the catalysts that shape character, morals, and values.
Let’s say at mom’s house, tidiness, cleanliness, hard work, a respectful attitude, religion, and discipline are nurtured. Nutritious food choices and exercise are also extolled. She hopes her offspring will grow up to be productive, self-supporting, healthy individuals who conduct themselves with Godly integrity. At dad’s house, slothfulness is apparent and expectations are low. Alcohol flows freely, and discipline is not meted out when necessary. Church doesn’t happen, diets are poor, and everyone is a couch potato or video junkie. How does a child make sense of this? If you were the mom in this scenario, you would not want your child exposed to overnight visitation at a home so radically different from your own. Think of the negative impact! A child is much better off being raised in one home with one set of expectations.
5. Parental Feuding
Shared parenting is probably the worst of all divorced parenting solutions. Each parent is given equal authority for equal amounts of time, which only pits one against the other. In a marriage, one parent might appear to have more say than the other, but in truth, a more mutual submission exists. Parents confer with each other. They share thoughts and opinions on matters that affect their children. This does not happen after a divorce. During mom’s week, she bashes dad and explains why everything he said and did during his week was wrong. When the child returns to dad’s house and shares how upset mom was, dad spends his week raging about her comments and trying to convince the child his is the better way. Not only is this unproductive, but it damages your child and does not demonstrate how healthy relationships function. You sacrifice quality time with your kids because you waste all your parenting time being angry and plotting rebuttals and revenge against your ex.
When a child nixes overnight visitation with the non-custodial parent, the feuding is radically minimized. The custodial parent feels empowered by the control they wield. When the custodial parent’s authority is established, they are more willing to extend grace and leniency toward the other parent because they no longer feel threatened. This is a huge relief to the children who can enjoy each parent and not feel like the monkey in the middle of a fierce and heated battle.
6. Negative Impact of Excess
Family counselors caution divorced parents not to play the role of Santa Claus. Typically, one parent feels the need to win favor with their children by overindulging them with gifts, treats, and an inordinate number of fun activities. These children double dip on holidays too by raking in gifts from mom’s house and dad’s house. Kids quickly learn how to work the system. Pitting one parent against another is as simple as nonchalantly reporting what they are receiving from the opposite parent. It fosters a sense of competition between households.
What effect does excess have on the children? First, they learn how to wheedle what they want from their parents instead of working to earn it for themselves. This cultivates laziness, a poor work ethic, and a pronounced sense of entitlement. Second, they absorb the wrong lesson on love that can affect their future relationships. Love isn’t materialistic. Love can’t be bought. Love isn’t about how much you can selfishly acquire, but how much you can give another from your heart—not your wallet.
When children nix overnight stays with the non-custodial parent, the legal guardian will feel less inclined to win them because that parent feels more secure and established. The non-custodial parent will realize it is pointless to buy a bunch more stuff because his kids won’t be staying overnight to use it. He will use his time talking and interacting with his kids in a positive way to make the most of their time together.
Pare down excess at holidays by establishing a new rule—whichever parent has them that day is responsible for providing the gifts. The opposite parent can either opt out altogether or buy one small item per child.
7. Non-Custodial Parent Gives More Focused Attention
Just because his kids are with him for the weekend doesn’t mean the non-custodial parent will give them his undivided attention. After working all week, he has responsibilities to take care of at home too. If he has remarried, he may be the lazy type of parent who will pawn all the childcare duties onto the stepmom or leave the kids up to their own devices.
When visitation without an overnight stay is scheduled, it forces the non-custodial parent to better engage his children. His time with them is short, and he does a better job of focusing on them and listening to what each has to say. Instead of looking through them as they pass by, his time with them becomes more interactive, and they make a connection that is essential for their emotional well-being. Fitness instructors advise that quality over quantity is a better strategy for exercise repetitions, and the same principle applies to visitation. Children of divorce who enjoy a concentrated and purposeful visit with their non-custodial parent will reap the same bonding benefits without the overnight stay.
Establishing the New Arrangement
The success of this revolutionary approach to visitation rests solely on the maturity, honesty, and integrity of both parents and their children. Divorced parents need to have an honest conversation with their offspring. Do the kids want to maintain the standard, court-ordered visitation schedule, or would they prefer visiting the non-custodial parent without an overnight stay? Neither parent should try to manipulate the outcome.
The custodial parent should not exploit the arrangement by petitioning the courts for additional child support. The purpose of eliminating overnight visitation is to provide the children with security and stability, not to siphon more money for personal gain.
The custodial parent needs to demonstrate fairness and clemency when the non-custodial parent requests special, unplanned visits. Maybe a family member from out-of-town is coming to visit, tickets for a special event are acquired, or a vacation is scheduled. Just because overnight visitation is no longer a regular habit does not mean the kids can’t spend the night when the situation warrants.
The non-custodial parent should be kept in the loop. He should be made aware of parent-teacher conferences, school events, extra-curricular activities, doctor visits, and the host of miscellaneous affairs that arise concerning his children. His presence and participation should be welcomed and encouraged. The court ordered holiday visitation schedule can remain the same, or it can be tweaked by both parents based upon the wishes of the kids. The children should feel free to contact him when they want to speak to him without mom feigning scorn or disapproval.
Most important, it should be stressed to the children that eliminating overnight visitation does not equal rejection by the non-custodial parent. Rather, it’s out of his love for them that he is willing to sacrifice the extra time to ensure they feel rooted and grounded in one permanent home base. He is more concerned with their emotional well-being than his own. Divorce created difficult waters to navigate, but he is doing his best to spare his children confusion, upset, and displacement in the transition.
For most broken families, this solution might be doomed from the start. So few divorced couples are able to restrain themselves from vindictiveness, spite, and selfishness to truly put their children’s needs first. If, however, you sincerely seek a solution that reduces the upheaval your children face by living dual lives at multiple addresses, this can work for you. It’s not a solution the courts or a psychology text book will advance, but no one knows what’s best for your kids better than you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: I question my twenty-two-month-old daughters capacity to adjust to the changing environments & conditions of overnight stays - that it overextends her & creates an unhealthy split or division in her developing mind. How can it be established if this is the case?
Answer: First, the court has to rule according to the laws of your state, and there is no law stating overnight stays can be abolished. The visitation schedule as outlined by the court is what you are required to follow. Your only option is for the other parent to agree to eliminate overnight visitation, which is something he or she can agree to do outside of the court system. This only works if both you and your ex aren't crazy. Without having something in writing, your ex could say you violated the court order by not letting him/her have your child. You could also say that your ex isn't taking your child when he's supposed to and request more money from the court to compensate you for having her more. If your ex refuses to rescind overnight visitation rights, there is nothing you can do.
© 2018 Vivian Coblentz
Alex on August 15, 2020:
Thank you for the article. I think it is biased without having one important topic: "Hostile agressive parenting by biomom". Evil will of biomon in training child to hate the other parent and especially stepmom cannot be underestimated. In my case it started with really nice relation of future stepmom and my son and 4 years after , he is now 9, it is real hate and disrespect. Really difficult to deal with that, constant disciplining and yet it keeps going to please the "real mom".
JT1984 on August 06, 2018:
I appreciated this article very much. Only thing i do not agree with is the mothers generally getting custody. Its truly 50 50 in our state. Now, The "haters" commenting are either men who were offended when your comments on their new brides hit too close to home ( proven by their need to build up how much their new wife has helped the kids not realizing they have effectively proved your exact point!) Or women who unfortunately are in siuations where mental health issues are at play causing a great deal of increased instability. Or step-parents that were perhaps unfortunately offended by many points. Stability is key for children.
I myself am a step-parent. And I have children of my own. I told the children early on that my role was never to replace their other parent but that i am simply an additional support. They are grown now. Children are smart and if you try to push a step-parent on them while bashing your ex, you are being immature and harming your child emotionally. You must not forget, the joy of finding a new love and happiness is great and you very well may want to shout it to the rooftops but unless your ex partner is a legitmate failure ( meaning the kids can recognize failure or broken promises) please do
Not expect your children to be as overjoyed as you. That takes time. And remember: new spouses fall in love with the spouse first, then over time the children. Real love for a step parent or step child takes time and is never immediate. Anyone who tells you different is selling you something. That love slowly grows and will akways be different than bio kids and thats ok. Step- parents are not horrible people for this and step kids are not horrible for this. I stumbled upon this article while doing research for a support group of divorced parents. Your stero-types are so accurate i couldnt help but comment. Maybe thats why others have issue, like i said a little too close to home. Bottom line: you fell in love, married your ex, had children, fell out of love but none of that is the childs fault. REAL children focused co-parenting should be the goal. Bashing bio dad and praising step dad ( and vise versa with bio mom and step mom) is NOT children focused. Best of luck to everyone.
ty7865 on June 19, 2018:
Wow just....wow. this sound like it was written by my ex-wife. She used all these excuses to keep my children away from me when we were separated. Every drop off my kids were crying and clinging to me, but oh no, no overnights because they need a schedule and stability and every minute of every day planned out. Oh no dad may go the park for 30 or maybe 40 minutes can't have that needs to be from 4pm-4:30pm sharp. Every visit I had her hovering over my shouldering judging every single thing I did with my kids. Heaven forbid I took them on a playdate with a non-approved friend with four kids, or took them to a museum, or tried to enroll them in some activity.
Because of her control justified by articles like this my kids have extreme behavioral problems with violence. Luckily I was smart enough to document everything and when I went to court and my 4 and 6 year old said they didn't want to live with their mother I was granted primary custody. three years later I have much happier, healthier and functioning children.
And I love (not) how you paint all stepmoms as evil. Their stepmom loves them, yeah some bumps along the away becoming a mom of two overnight, but she has done so much to help them and give them a loving, engaged mother they never had. With her my kids get the social activities my ex would never take them too, and fun they never had.
a 'deadbolt' dad on June 15, 2018:
And then there are people like my ex-wife who shouted "He'll abuse them!" when I asked for shared custody of our children.
The judge chose not to investigate, assumed that my ex-wife was not lying, and said that I could only see the kids on alternate weekends (with no overnights).
To add insult to injury, my kids refuse to see me while parroting their mother's statements that I'm only a sperm donor, and that I don't pay 'enough' child support, despite child support being half my take home pay.
Despite what the special interest groups may tell you, men like me have not abandoned our children - we have been pushed away.
I now consider myself to be my ex-wife's indentured servant, who is allowed to visit with my children at my ex-wife's whim.
Notyourmom on May 06, 2018:
Horrible article. Despite what your claim is @armasay1026 the examples you give do not fit the category of dealing with an ex who has a personality disorder, but rather everyday things. If you were a fly on the wall in homes across the world you'd mostly find that even with in tact families there are varying "rules" and "expectations" between parents who still live under the same roof. Also, you place a heavy emphasis on the need for 'control' with custodial parents when that's were most of the stress/disputes stem from when co-parenting doesn't work. Finally, you mention that eliminating overnights 'forces' the non custodial parent to focus their attention on the children because of their otherwise busy work schedule. I'm assuming in this scenario the custodial parent doesn't work? You can't honestly suggest that only custodial parents are able to provide uninterrupted attention toward their children...
Vivian Coblentz (author) on March 13, 2018:
Thank you for sharing your viewpoint. First, it's not flagrant to say most moms are awarded primary custody because that is a fact. There is an uptick in the number of cases where fathers are awarded custody, but it is still heavily weighted toward the mother. Second, I did not say most non-custodial parents overindulge their children--I said counselors point out that one parent typically feels the need to play Santa Claus. Third, it's not so much the use of stereotypes--if you have spent as much time researching as you claim, then you know that tens of thousands of people at the very least fall in the camps outlined in this article. No one needs to be oppressed by a stereotype and can choose a different path if they so desire. Last, I'm not saying this is a one-size-fits-all approach to custody situations. It's just an alternative worth exploring in cases that warrant it. As far as redefining what love and connection looks like in marriage, one could argue that it does not need redefined. People might just need to do a better job picking their lifetime mates and then honoring that commitment. Now, THAT would be a good example to children and would not force them to deal with the repercussions of their parents' poor choices.
aramsay1026 on March 13, 2018:
I could not disagree more with just about every bullet point in this article. Some of it is from highly painful, personal experience and some of it is from years of extensive research. It is short sighted to think "cutting off" overnight visits will magically realign either parent's priorities. The idea that the custodial parent will feel "power by the control they yield" if overnight visits are axed is frankly a bit terrifying. If we're appeasing custodial parents by granting their desire for power then it stands to reason we may have lost sight of the child's best interests.
The use of stereotypes is not only flagrant ("most moms' get primary custody" "most non-custodial parents overindulge their children", "stepmoms will want to elevate their children above their stepchildren") but harmful; these are labels that, even if undeserved, people have trouble rising above and are oppressed by. As a stepmom I take personal offense to the idea that I would not value by stepchildren as much as my biological children or that I would upend their lives with my own priorities and desires.
Families are as complex as the people they are made up of. If we filter them all through outdated caricatures and conventions we rob modern families of their ability to redefine what love and connection looks like in marriage, divorce and remarriage.
Vivian Coblentz (author) on March 08, 2018:
Wow! Your daughter is certainly in a difficult position. I'm sure it grieves you to see her living like this. You are right that the solution I'm suggesting does apply more to "normal" people. I would think if your son-in-law continues down this road, the courts might only award him supervised visitation until his issues are resolved--if they ever are.
Vivian Coblentz (author) on March 08, 2018:
Thank you for sharing your insight and perspective. You make very valid points. There is no one-size-fits-all solution since most divorce cases have their own unique set of intricate circumstances. I'm simply presenting one viable option that can work for some families.
MrBill757 on March 08, 2018:
Your article has great ideas for “normal” spouses who divorce. But these ideas won’t work when one spouse has “issues”......i.e. bipolar, BPD, (borderline personality, disorder). I’m sure it was unintentional, but the pervasive spread of internet porn requires safeguards for children. Our daughter is currently filing for divorce. Her husband wants their son to have unfettered access to their computer. No filtering . (He’s 14). Our daughter changed the password for the computer and her husband’s head exploded. He’s become increasingly physical as they come closer to the filing. He has begun pushing our daughter resulting in our daughter getting a restraining order. So imagine how all these great ideas for custody will play out with our daughter’s husband after a restraining order and mental disease. There’s an increasing number of people who are dealing with things like BPD, bipolar, ADD, ADHD, etc. All the things the article points out are certainly true, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deal with the aftermath of divorce.
dashingscorpio from Chicago on March 08, 2018:
From my observation if there are two loving parents many of these so called issues are fairly non-existent.
The main problem for many children of divorce comes from observing the HATE one ex has for the other. The children are used as pawns for the purpose of their parents to hurt one another.
There are 3 basic reasons why couples get divorced
1. They chose the wrong mate. (They're too incompatible)
2. A "deal breaker" was committed in the eyes of the another.
3. Over time they fell out of love/stopped wanting the same things.
Generally speaking the person who is dumped, cheated on, or feels betrayed for whatever reason seldom takes the high road or does whatever possible to insure a smooth co-parenting arrangement. There's resentment and they want revenge.
Imagine having your spouse cheat on you and then they marry the person they cheated with. Odds are you're never going to want to be around your ex and their spouse. You're not going to want your children to be "happy" when they're with your ex.
Children sense they are expected to be loyal to the parent who didn't want the divorce or the parent who lost the most either financially or emotionally due to the divorce. They're encouraged to hate the step parent or at the very least not make it easy on them. Few divorced couples want their exes living happy lives!
This is especially true if they're forced to engage with them due to the fact they have children together.
The children are more resilient than their divorced parents.
If they can avoid being petty, jealous, competitive, and put the welfare and happiness of their children above all odds are having two households filled with love will not have a disastrous effect.