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