Sunday, February 16, 2014

Post-Divorce Parenting: Visitation vs Time-Sharing

Well, well, well, it seems that things and times are changing afterall. And it’s a change for the better, I believe. What am I talking about? Well, today’s post is about the concept of visitation versus time-sharing. It’s a concept that I’ve long thought about based on my own experience and I’m so glad to know that the courts – at least here in Florida – are finally coming around to the concept that I’ve spoken about for such a long time.

Last week I was speaking with a family law attorney who shared with me that in Florida, legally, the term “visitation” is no longer used when speaking of the time that a child spends with a parent after a divorce. The term “time-sharing” is now used. In other words, a child no longer visits his/her parent – instead (s)he spends time. To some readers, this may not seem like much but if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’d know that I’m a big advocate for the time-sharing concept.

Like I shared in my post The Story Behind The Upbeat Dad, I went through a divorce in the early 2000s. That legal process awakened me to the reality that many families face each day as husbands and wives fall out of love and into the family law system. It was a big eye opener indeed. There were a series of things that bothered me but the most significant of them was the term visitation. I even wrote the post From Father to Visitor about the process.

When my daughter was conceived, I was as happy as a lark. I knew of the impending responsibility to take care of her so, in a sense, I was scared that a life was going to be entrusted to my former wife and me. I didn’t know if we were really ready for all that it would take to raise a child. But I was still excited nonetheless to think that I was going to be a father. Something about that thought brought  a sense of pride to me.

My former wife and I have shared the responsibility for our daughter’s care – from even before she was born. I never missed a doctor’s appointment throughout the pregnancy. I was in the delivery room when she was born (I joke with her today that I’m the first face she saw when she was born because I was standing right there as she made her first earthly appearance). I was there every step of the way after her birth – taking her to the pediatrician, the day care, to birthday parties and just everything that a loving parent should do. We were both involved - none more than the other.

So when the marriage ended, I really had a problem with the legal term “visitation.” How did I, almost overnight, go from being “daddy” to “visitor”? I think that that term suggested that I was a 2nd tier parent – she lives with her mother and visits me. A typical dad who went through a divorce at that time would be happy to just get the standard “every other weekend” and he’s good to go – no need for anything further. That just didn’t seem right to me, especially considering that I’ve always been close with my daughter.

I could not take on the court system by myself so I was determined to help as many people as possible before they even got to that phase. I was on a campaign to save marriages and other relationships so that people would avoid the harsh realities of the family law system. I feel for kids who really have no voice in the way the process is carried out; they just have to deal with the outcome.
The attorney who I referenced earlier told me that in Florida, time-sharing is now the rule of law – no longer visitation. In addition, the courts now try to work out a 50/50 schedule – no longer one parent being the primary custodial parent while the other gets “visits” from their kids. That’s the point that I have been making all along. I’m just happy to see that the courts came to the conclusion that the time-sharing concept is better. I really believe that kids are better for it.
Today, my daughter lives with my new wife, our son and me. When she is with me, she’s at home. When she’s with her mom, my former wife, she’s also at home. She has two homes where she is loved and cherished. That’s the message that we ought to send our kids.
Several years ago, as I reflected on this entire transitional period that I went through, I wrote the following poem:
By Rodrick Walters

I was there when the doctor told us
That we were having a girl
Our parents were right there to hold us
We were so on top of the world;

I was right there for your christening
I was holding my bundle of joy
The preacher said, “Look, do you see him?
He’s smiling like a little boy;"

I was there when you started the first grade
You made me the proudest of dads
I really thought I had it made
Didn’t know things would turn out so bad;

Now the marriage I lived for is over
We’ve started new lives on our own
Now I struggle as I try to recover
‘Cause you live all the way across town;

I’m your father, not a visitor
This feeling is so new to me
I want to see you grow older
To be what a father should be;

I just don’t know ‘bout this system
Didn’t know it was really this bad
I don’t want you to be a victim
I just want to be your dad;

Yet I still hope for tomorrow
I know better days lie ahead
But for now I mask this sorrow
Some words are better left unsaid

My dear, I will leave you never
So you don’t have to be sad
This tie no one can sever
I’m always, forever, your dad.

Those words were written from the heart back then. Looking at it now, I smile because things have worked out just fine. And my daughter is doing great.

 If you’re a parent and somehow you find yourself in the position that I was in so long ago, just know that your kids are always your kids. I don’t know if the law in your jurisdiction uses the term “visitation” or not. I do know that if you treasure your kids as you should, nothing can change the fact that your kids are yours and you have a great responsibility for them. Visitation, to me, is when they go to visit their grandparents or other relatives. When they are with you, they are at home – even if you and the other parent don't live together.
I hope that this post has been an encouragement to you, particularly if you’re a parent who’s learning how to live without your kids in the home all the time. Just give them your love always and sooner or later, it will all work itself out. You can raise well-adjusted, successful kids even while parenting apart.
Enjoy yourself today.

The Upbeat Dad


  1. I love the way you put this. And, it is very true, that a child has two homes and should feel equally at home in each, after all, you are both her parents whether your are married or not, which is the are still her parents. Great that the laws are changing in some states!

  2. I understand you completely. I wish my children's father had ever been as involved. Never been to a single doctor's visit, no parent-teacher conferences, traveled all the time while I stayed at home. I handled everything in our child's lives. Now, we are newly divorced and he is screaming about his parental rights. Rights he didn't even consider while we were still all living under the same roof, when he was home that is. I appreciate your point of view, but this is hard to swallow when I look at the behavior of the man my children have to call father the rest of their lives. I will spend a great deal of my time rebuilding their self-esteem because his "talk the talk but won't walk the walk" behavior does greatly affect them.

    Yes, he is likely an exception to the rule. But as such, I felt important to share that this kind of "father" does still exist and laws will never be perfect or suit each situation.

  3. Thanks to both of you for sharing your thoughts. Very well said. Being a parent isn't a hobby or something you do because you have to. It's something to be treasured. Particularly when marriages and other relationships end, I wish we had more fathers who embraced this concept. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. Great post. My feelings exactly. Just hearing the term "visit" drives me up the wall. My son has TWO homes, and he's not a "visitor" in his father's home. Thanks for your post, and here's to hoping that more court systems get it.

  5. Well said, I agree, I am divorced and I have worked very hard to ensure our kids have two incredible homes. They have double sets of bikes, beds, vacations, everything. They are fully loved in both homes. They are all doing awesome in school and are very happy and well adjusted. Too bad most states (Vermont for example makes it ILLEGAL for parents to share custody, which only serves to create conflict!) do not recognize that children are best served by simply having two wonderful parents fully involved.

  6. I like your post. I have been separated for 5yrs and divorced for 1yrs. I love my kids, I tried so hard to make them happy into the new home or "2nd home". I gave to them anything in my power to make them happy but my ex managed to keep them away from me and make me look no important...or not need it. My son 14yrs old once text his mother says that my house is a shit hole. My ex supported him on his language and feel, instead him talking to me. We do not see each other much, I see my daughter more. I am in a process to move back home. I live in Canada now but I am from Italy, my daughter wish to come with me. I feel like rejected but my kids also and I am tired of be here. I feel I can give to them more we they will come to visit in the summer. They love Italy.
    I am facing a big conflict right now, stay and be misarable or be happy where I want to be?
    Anyone faced the similar situation?
    Thank you

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