Divorce means the dissolution of the marriage, but when you have children your role as a parent will have to change after a divorce to comply with the laws. In Maryland, courts may grant primary residential custody to one parent over the other, which means that the child will live most of the time in that parent’s house. The other parent gets visitation or parenting time with the child. Sometimes, parents choose this arrangement themselves, as well.
As a non-custodial parent, where you can make the biggest difference in your child’s life – other than paying child support consistently – is to be involved in every aspect of your child’s life. Children thrive best when they can enjoy a healthy, bonded relationship with both parents.
Tips for non-custodial parents
Here are some things to consider about what makes a parent-child relationship work when you are a non-custodial parent:
- Be involved in your child’s personal life. Just because your child does not live with you does not mean that you must be any less involved. Show interest in what interests them; know who their teachers are and attend parent-teacher conferences; show up for extracurricular events, games and exhibits. Your child wants to feel confident in the knowledge that you can be depended upon to show up and support their endeavors and dreams.
- Model a healthy co-parenting relationship. Your child will benefit greatly when you and your former spouse can successfully pivot away from squabbling spouses to cordial co-parents. Discuss and agree on a consistent plan for discipline so that one parent does not end up feeling like the “bad cop,” and the other parent lets the child get away with everything. If it helps, think of your co-parent as a business partner. Dealing with your interactions in a cordial, professional manner helps keep emotions out of the picture.
- Create a parenting plan and stick to it. Work with your co-parent and create a parenting plan that includes a visitation schedule, holidays, vacations, birthdays and other family or religious events. Make sure you stick to the parenting plan at all times. If the parenting plan is incorporated into the judgment of your divorce, it has the force and effect of a court order; violations of the plan can subject you to contempt proceedings and sanctions. Furthermore, your child will also benefit from a consistent schedule as will your relationship with your former spouse.
- Keep communication open. When you cannot be with your child in person for a visit, make sure to speak with them on a regular basis. Try using Skype or Facetime or any other kind of video chatting platform so that you can see and interact with your child when you are not together. Remember that there is no intrinsic right of a parent to speak to your child with any specific frequency; however, your spouse cannot restrict the access you are guaranteed to your child by a court order or parenting plan. If the parenting plan addresses the amount of time you may speak with your child, failure on behalf of your former spouse to abide by that plan could cause him or her to face contempt charges.
- Do not argue or fight in front of your child. Exercise as much self-control as you can muster up and avoid fighting and arguing in front of your child at all costs. Do not speak negatively about the other parent to your child, either. It does not foster a healthy relationship between your child and their other parent, and is likely to backfire in a myriad ways.
- Keep your commitments. Show up when you are scheduled to show up. Uphold your end of the parenting plan. Keep your financial obligations. Do not allow disagreements with your co-parent to cloud your commitment to be a good parent to your child.
Even as a non-custodial parent you have the opportunity to have a positive, lasting impact in your child’s life and on the kind of person he or she will become. When you are willing to let go of your disagreements with your former spouse and agree to be the best parents possible for your child, it can only have beneficial results.
You are welcome to call 410.921.2422 or contact Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC to discuss your child custody questions in a no obligation consultation at our Annapolis office. We understand the needs of parents in divorce. Our Maryland family law attorneys can protect your interests.