Becoming the Best Non-Custodial Parent You Can Be

While divorce rates in America are steadily decreasing, those who do get divorced are still left to pick up the pieces and continue with their lives as best as they can. Over time, couples do their best to survive on their own, children learn how to share time with their parents separately, and parents learn how difficult it can be to no longer live with their children.

This is what happened to Sean. After his marriage of seven years broke down, Sean’s ex-wife made sure that she received full physical custody of their two children. Sean was left with a problematic situation and wondered how exactly he would be able to remain a significant part of his children’s lives. Sean has become a non-custodial parent.

What is a non-custodial parent? A non-custodial parent is a parent that either does not have physical custody of their child or has the child for a minority of the time. The rights of the non-custodial parent are determined by the courts and are shaped in part by whether they have joint legal custody of the child. They are usually expected to pay child support.

For Jack and Felix, Sean’s children, life has changed a lot since their father moved out. Their usual routine of bedtime stories and hugs and kisses from mom and dad has changed, and now it’s just their mother who tucks them in every night.

They haven’t come to terms with the idea that their father isn’t there all the time anymore and they only see him over the weekend. This is a critical time in the transition process and an opportunity for the non-custodial parent to remain a vitally important part of their children’s lives.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative connotations attached to the idea of a non-custodial parent. Non-custodial parents face negative stereotypes men and women who do not pay child support, aren’t involved in their children’s lives, or worst of all voluntarily gave up custody of their children.

This is far from the truth as many non-custodial parents are deeply involved in their children’s lives, see their kids often, and have a healthy co-parenting relationship with their ex-spouse. 

Jack and Felix may find the transition from a two-parent household to a single-parent household difficult, but Sean can ease that transition by being the best parent he can be to his boys, even when they are not with him.

Being a Good Non-Cutodial Parent

Like every parent, Sean wants what is best for his children, and that is something that every non-custodial parent should stay focused on. While the bulk of non-custodial parents are fathers, more judges and courts are realizing the critical roles of fathers in their children’s lives and are more likely to agree to joint-custody agreements. Even though Sean is not living with his children, he is still going to be an essential part of their lives.

Non-custodial parents usually have set times when they see or live with their children, such as some weekends or at certain times when they can visit. Even though Sean’s time with his boys may be limited, he can make the most of it by ensuring the time they do spend together is high quality. .

It’s no longer just about sitting in front of the television and calling that bonding time. When Sean sees Felix and Jack, they go out together. They play ball in the park and try to cook together in the kitchen.

Sean calls his boys every evening to say goodnight to them, creating a new ritual and reminder that he is there. He tells them he loves them every time they see each other. 

While Sean’s absence is difficult for him and the boys, he can use that time together to be the best father possible. This is emphasized as studies have shown that children’s continued relationship with a non-custodial father after divorce has a positive impact on their behavior and development.

As a non-custodial parent, Sean still has rights and a tremendous responsibility to his boys.

The Rights of a Non-Custodial Parent

Non-custodial parents have some rights over their children though most of them are determined through court systems (source). If a non-custodial parent shares legal custody of the child, their rights will differ from a parent without legal rights. However, most non-custodial parents are awarded legal rights over the child unless it is decided that it is not in the child’s best interests (source).

Visitation rights

Non-custodial parents are generally given some time with their children. Different factors, such as the child’s needs, the geographic location, and schedule of both parents affect visitation rights (source).

Visitation can also be limited depending on negative factors such as neglect or an incompatible lifestyle. The age of the child is also a factor in visitation rights and can be changed as the child gets older.

Access to a child’s medical and school records

A non-custodial parent who has legal rights may ask for information about their child’s school progress and health through reports and physical health updates. This can also include knowledge of extra-curricular activities in school. With legal rights, the non-custodial parent can also assist in making critical medical decisions. 

Joint decision making

With legal rights, parents may be required to make collective decisions about schooling, tertiary education, mental health, and the welfare of the child.

Payment of child support that reflects their income

A non-custodial parent is usually expected to pay child support. However, this amount may be decided by the court. In a case where income levels change, the non-custodial parent may ask for the amount to be reviewed.

Holidays

As part of the custody agreement, a non-custodial parent can ask for the right to spend holidays with their children.

Contact From the Custodial Parent

For a non-custodial parent, they may want to limit the amount and nature of the communication that the custodial parent has with the child during their time together. This is not required but can be discussed during the custody arrangements if both parties agree.

With great power comes great responsibility, and a non-custodial parent is expected to fulfill their duties to their children with integrity and fidelity.

Responsibilities of a Non-Custodial Parent

Responsibility is a vital aspect of a parent’s role as the non-custodial parent. The responsible non-custodial parent puts the needs of the child first and cares about their well-being. When the non-custodial parent conducts themselves in this manner, they show that they are responsible and well-meaning, which can factor in future custody arrangements.

Sean knows that if he can show that he is committed to his role as a responsible father, the chances of him gaining additional custody of his children will increase. It may be difficult sometimes to see the forest for the trees, but it is in the best interest of the child.

Stick to the visitation schedule

If the non-custodial parent has been given visitation rights, they should always try to fulfill this commitment. That means that he/she should always arrive for visits or pick-ups on time and should return the child to the custodial parent on time as well. Non-custodial parents should also avoid missing visitation meetings without a valid excuse.

Put the needs of the child first

While some children of divorce may struggle to be in the middle of their separated parents, both parents should be trying to smooth the transition between homes during visits. The non-custodial parent should also ensure that their child is safe, healthy, and looked after in their home.

Pay child support

If the non-custodial parent is paying child support, he/she should ensure that it is paid promptly and in full. After all, the money is there for the child’s well-being.

In case that there is not a formal child support payment agreement, if the non-custodial parent buys items for the child, he/she should keep proofs of purchases made, such as receipts and bank statements.

Unfortunately, it is more common for female-run households to struggle financially and child support payments are vital to maintain stability in their home. Under no circumstances should the parent responsible for child support payment relinquish this duty (source). 

Planning for visits

If a non-custodial parent is granted visitation rights, activities should be planned to show the child that they are loved. These activities do not have to be formal or expensive but should be a means to spend quality time with the child. 

Preparing a safe overnight stay

Ideally, the child should feel as comfortable at the home of the non-custodial parent as they would in their own home. A parent can create a warm and familiar environment by giving them their own room, and keeping toys and games in the child’s room or sleeping area.

Co-parent with the ex-spouse

While many non-custodial parents may feel the urge to have fun and exciting visitations, the non-custodial parent needs to maintain a regular routine with their children. There should be consistency in expectations and discipline from home to home.

Becoming a Great Non-Custodial Parent

Needless to say, it is difficult to be a non-custodial parent. There are a lot of expectations of a parent in that role, from an ex-spouse, from themselves and most importantly, from their child.

Sean has found the transition to be pretty tricky, and he faces a lot of challenges, but every non-custodial parent should strive to do the best they can for themselves and their children. (source)

When Sean called his children one night, his elder son Jack refused to speak to him over the phone. Sean’s feelings were hurt, but he assumed that Jack was having a bad day, so he let it go. However, Jack refused to speak to his father again the next night, and Sean knew that there was something wrong.

When he spoke to his ex-wife, he found out that Jack has been quiet the last few days and had not engaged much with his family after getting home from school. Sean luckily had visitation with his kids the next weekend and was able to have some quiet time with his son. Jack refused to speak with him and stormed out of the room, leaving Sean feeling helpless and devastated. 

A lot of parents, both custodial and non-custodial, might be overwhelmed with the challenges of divorce. This period is difficult for all parties, and the effect it has on the children cannot be understated. Parents must show support for their children during this time.

Sean has to remember that these changes overwhelm his children. Their world has transformed almost overnight, and it’s understandable that they may act out during this time.

While Jack might be pushing him away, Sean needs to remain at Jack’s side and show him that even though his relationship with Jack’s mother has changed, it does not alter Sean’s relationship and feelings for his son. 

Jack refused to tell Sean about whatever was troubling him, but he was willing to talk to Sean the following night over the phone. He mentioned that someone at school had laughed at him and had said that his father didn’t love him or his brother anymore.

This is another issue that non-custodial parents have to deal with. Children may not understand the nuances of what broke their parents up, and some might feel that the divorce is their fault.

It is essential that parents, especially non-custodial parents, try to keep peace in their relationship with their ex-partner. Sean might be feeling angry or upset with his ex-wife, and those feelings are normal, but his children should be shielded from that negativity.

The next time Sean had a day with his boys, he felt the urge to take them to an amusement park and spend the day on fun rides having fun with his kids, hoping that it would cheer Jack up. This is a common mistake that a lot of non-custodial parents make.

Some parents might want to “buy” their children’s love by giving them lots of toys and gadgets. This might come from a sense of guilt as the parent wants to “make up” for the disruptions in their children’s lives. Children do not need material objects. They need the unconditional love of the parent.

They want quality time with their mother or father. They require a level of normality within the arrangement so that their non-custodial parent does not become the “fun” or “cool” parent. Instead, the child needs stability, discipline, and acceptance.

Sean needs to make time for his family. For full-time working adults, juggling family and work can be a difficult task. Some non-custodial parents are not able to find that same quality time with their children anymore, purely because they no longer live with them. Something as simple as popping into the child’s bedroom for a talk and hug is no longer possible, and this separation can lead to feelings of loss. 

As Sean goes through the transition from full-time parent to the non-custodial parent, he needs to surround himself with positive influences and support.

This time is a difficult period in his life, and he needs people who will be there for him. Not having custody of his children is painful, and he needs friends and family who can understand his hurt. Studies have shown that fathers feel overwhelmed during this transition period, and some do not feel emotionally equipped to handle their new responsibilities.

They need their support system, which will allow them to vent and work through their negative and hurt feelings to arrive at a place where they can be a positive force in their child’s lives.

If a non-custodial parent thinks therapy can be beneficial to help them deal with the issues that caused their divorce or separation, they should give it a try.

If Sean does not show emotional intelligence in working through his feelings and being there for his sons, he may find a variety of reasons for being unable to see them. This will be harmful to both him and the boys.

The Effective Non-Custodial Parent

The role of the non-custodial parent cannot be emphasized enough, especially in cases like Sean’s. When a parent disappears from their child’s life after divorce, the child is more likely to experience feelings of rejection and abandonment.

They lack models in their life for what is acceptable and desirable, and they will seek them out from other sources. Unfortunately, it also creates a cycle of disengagement, which can contribute to problems in their future relationships. 

The main thing that a non-custodial parent needs is hope. They will go through many challenges, and they need to remain hopeful that their contributions are what their kids need to grow and develop in a healthy way.

Divorce and separation from children are never easy, but through a positive attitude, a non-custodial parent can make the best out of a bad situation. Just because one parent does not live with their children, it does not mean that they cannot remain a big part of their child’s life.

They can stay involved and continue to be a positive influence. If a non-custodial parent approaches their role with positivity, understanding, and a willingness to compromise and learn, they will never lose their position as “mom” or “dad.” 

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and an educational trainer - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

Recent Content