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Is there a legal way to force my ex to see his son more regularly?

(15 Posts)
Sheila Sun 19-Jun-05 20:23:51

Since I split up with my ex he's come to see ds (5yo) pretty regularly but always at my house, rarely for more than one day - usually Saturday. He turns up when he likes (yesterday not until 11.00 a.m.) and leaves when he likes, and if he doesn't fancy coming he just doesn't come. Often I only get v. short notice that he's not coming.

I'm increasingly fed up with this. It's impossible for me to plan the weekends and I'm beginning to feel I'll never have a life of my own.

That said, he and ds have a lovely relationship and when they're together they have nice times. I can't claim that ds is suffering through this arrangement - it suits everyone except me.

I don't want to get nasty about this or stop ex from seeing ds (ds would suffer most if I did), but are there any legal avenues to force ex to regularise contact? All I want is for him to be reliable and regular in his contact.

We were never married so usual legal routes aren't open to me.

Any advice - legal or general advice on how to handle this - greatly appreciated.

Chandra Sun 19-Jun-05 20:27:41

No idea, do you both have custody? maybe if you do it may be considered that is your responsability and DHs' to arrange for a fixed mutually convenient time. However, take this as a general advice as I have not a clue of family law in England.

Sheila Sun 19-Jun-05 20:36:04

Thanks Chandra,

Because we were never married there was never any formal arrangement about custody, but ds lives with me. ExP doesn't have parental repsonsibility.

debs26 Sun 19-Jun-05 20:37:53

you can still go to court, i wasnt married to xp and we did it. talk to a solicitor or local county court. if you want him to have pr that can also be sorte out through court

edam Sun 19-Jun-05 20:44:49

Don't think there's any legal route you can go down to force your ex to see his child more often; but you should write to your MP pointing this problem out. All the father's rights brigade are busy claiming that there are 1000s of mothers obstructing access when in fact I bet that your situation is much more common.

Your ds may be putting up with daddy only showing up when he feels like it now, but it will become more and more obvious to him that daddy isn't putting him first as he grows up.

Could you sit down with your ex, point out reasonably but calmly that like all children your ds needs to have a routine and that it's upsetting for him if he doesn't know when daddy's turning up? (Think is reasonable to fib about that bit even if ds is actually OK at the moment) And that it's also bloody inconvenient for you and makes it impossible for you to plan your days - you aren't his servant and he shouldn't be messing you about like this.

It's not too much to ask that a father should turn up regularly and not be hours late. Set a day and time and tell him he has to phone you asap to cancel if there is a real, serious problem - like his car's been stolen, not like he can't be bothered. Write the arrangement down and get him to sign it.

If he can't be bothered to see his son sometimes, what sort of message does that give your ds? If he still doesn't pull his socks up, you might need to tell him to go for mediation sessions to sort out contact on a more formal basis.

SofiaAmes Mon 20-Jun-05 00:18:35

Have you tried just talking to him nicely about it. Men can be a little dense and is it possible that he just hasn't realized that being irregular and unreliable might be upsetting for a child. Is there some reason (maybe that you are unaware of) that he doesn't have ds overnight? You might let him know that it doesn't matter if he's in a small messy apartment...a 5 year old boy isn't going to care and will reallly just be thrilled to spend time with his daddy and won't mind sharing a bed etc. I know all of this sounds a bit like "why should I have to do all of this," but if your object is to get your ds to spend more time on a more regular basis with his father then maybe a little manipulation and humoring might be just the ticket. Think of it like trying to convince a child to go to bed on time.

By the way, is it possible that you are critical of your x's care of your ds without meaning to be. I know that my dh's x constantly complains about everything he does with his children and it really makes him want to spend less time with the children, because it's difficult to be constantly told what a terrible father he is (when in fact he is an absolutely awesome father). Of course she is truly an evil witch and you sound like a nice reasonable person, so this is probably not even an issue.

Sheila Tue 21-Jun-05 13:56:28

Thanks for your responses. Of course I have tried the reasonable approach to no avail - xdp just agrees and then doesn't change. I'm never critical of the how he handles ds - I genuinely think that he is a good dad (when he's there) and I know that ds enjoys his time with him.

Xdp sees ds on his terms - when and where he wants, without any consultation with me. I ALWAYS bend over backwards to accommodate xdp's requirements about seeing ds, so I don't think it's in any way my fault that xdp isn't reliable. He wouldn't choose to see ds in my house if that was the problem, would he?

I think that I simply haven't been tough enough and have been too accommodating, frankly.

In the end I called the Gingerbread advice line and the advisor confirmed what I thought - that there's no legal way to make xdp more reliable. She told me it was up to me to "be strong" and tell xdp how it's going to be: i.e. this is when you see ds, and this is where you see him.

But I don't know what I'll do. I know that if I ban xdp from my house ds will be very upset, but for things to go on as they are is becomng intolerable for me. To be honest I feel completely trapped in this situation.

What should I do?

Caligula Tue 21-Jun-05 14:12:11

In your situation, I think I would plan my life always as if your ex wasn't going to come. Then if he does, if it is convenient and not too much trouble to re-arrange whatever you're doing, I'd re-arrange. If otoh all the plans are made, I'd simply tell him that you've planned to do x, it's not convenient now, and could you put some dates in the diary now, so that this doesn't happen in future.

The only problem with that of course, is that it could backfire and he could refuse to do that in order to be seen to be retaining control. (To some men, that's more important than seeing their kids.)

Good point Edam - I think I'll write to my MP. I was just thinking yesterday how I would love to be able to go to court to force my xp to come and see his kids, even if it's only every six months, or at least to phone them occasionally. It's a problem no-one seems to be talking about outside Mumsnet and lone family forums!

Catsmother Tue 21-Jun-05 14:23:03

Hi Sheila .... not sure I can give you any really constructive advice but your ex sounds rather like mine. My son is now 15 but we split when he was 4.5 .... we weren't married either.

I can't accuse him of totally disappearing like some men do but for a long time, I really felt it was a case of "out of sight, out of mind" for my ex. As a result, most contact was at my behest and I sometimes felt that if I didn't nag as much as I did, he'd have completely forgotten about our son. On top of that, for the last 10+ years, he's never made much of an effort re: calling our son during the week just to let him know he's thinking about him and, he's moved 3 times since the split, getting further and further away each time, meaning that contact becomes more practically difficult and he certainly wasn't able to "babysit" for me because of the distance involved. I used to feel very resentful because he earns a very enviable wage (far far above average) and therefore affordability wasn't the reason for his moving away. On the face of it we had "agreed" contact should be every other weekend - but it often felt like only one of us had "agreed" since my ex used to cancel/alter/cut short this contact time whenever he felt like it - irrespective of any plans I may have made for myself !

However - though he probably even now considers me a nagging old bag, I never let the subject drop .... aside from phone calls, I've written numerous emails & letters over the years, concentrating not (much anyway) on how his attitude affected me but emphasising how much his son wanted to see him and how he was disappointed when let down and so on. I was always assertive but never insulting, and took care to write very eloquently, politely and without direct criticism, because I didn't want to give him any opportunity to criticise me ....

.... when someone "confronts" you - albeit "nicely", it's quite difficult to wriggle out of and if he ever said he couldn't see our son this weekend, I'd try to make sure he wouldn't be let off the hook by getting him to commit to the following weekend, all the while emphasising "you are sure aren't you, as I have plans then (even if I didn't)".

Little by little, over the years, this polite nagging has paid dividends. Okay - so I shouldn't have to do this at all, but for the sake of my son, it's not really such a hardship and I admit I like seeing my ex squirm when he realises I've got the measure of him. Don't get me wrong, I don't think he's a heartless dad and he does love our son, but let's just say if someone else - i.e. me - absolved him of his responsibilities by saying it wasn't a problem if he couldn't see our son for 4 weeks, he wouldn't make much of an effort to rectify things off his own back.

Now my son is older, it does at last feel like I can relax a bit and communication between the pair of them directly is improving. Maybe he finds it easier to get on with teenagers than younger children .... not that that excuses less interest when he was youn ger of course.

There is nothing legal you can do to enforce this ..... but, providing your ex isn't a complete uncaring you know what, you can try appealing to his better nature and take control of the situation by asking him to confirm w/end arrangements within a timeframe suggested by you. If he doesn't do this you are then free to make your own arrangements and if it doesn't suit him - tough ! Obviously - I appreciate you want time for yourself too so don't let up on the (polite) nagging .... tell him often enough how dd misses him, wishes she could see him more, talks about him loads, how she'd like him to take her (insert activity here) at 9.30am Saturday (to force him to get up earlier) etc., etc., etc., ...... yeah, I know this is tantamount to emotional blackmail but all in a good cause I think. Don't be nasty to him yourself (or he may dig his heels in) & flatter his ego a bit re: what a great dad he is and you may find, like I did, that he will start to turn.

Catsmother Tue 21-Jun-05 14:27:19

Oh - also meant to say, if he cancels arrangements when it's his w/end, don't let him off the hook. My ex used to do this regularly - with 24 hours notice, when I'd been looking forward to a bit of "me" time for 2 weeks. I used to tell him I wasn't happy and that he'd have to rearrange this now (so it wasn't "forgotten" about) and, most importantly, I also used to tell him that I'd booked tickets, b & b's or hotels etc. and that he could bl**dy well pay for them as I wouldn't be able to get a refund (whether or not I could !) Luckily, he did always agree to put his hand in his pocket as he knew he was in the wrong and don't think he'd dare do this now, having been stung before.

Sheila Wed 22-Jun-05 13:30:45

Catsmother - does your ds stay overnight at his dad's? If so, at what age was he comfortable with this? My ds went twice and then said he didn't want to go again!

aloha Wed 22-Jun-05 13:39:35

Nobody, married or not, can force another person to see their children, legally or in any other way. Sorry your ex is so unreliable. I think if this situation is making you feel trapped then you have to change it by saying 'when do you plan to see ds and at what time?" and pointing out that you also have plans. I also think having a back up plan such as 'if you aren't here by 10am I will be going to do X and taking ds with me.

Catsmother Wed 22-Jun-05 15:02:43

Sheila, my son has stayed overnight with has dad right from the off - even if this was very irregular at times. Luckily, my son himself has never really expressed much upset/confusion/unhappiness/unwillingness to see his dad, even when he's let him down ..... maybe I've just been lucky, and I'm not suggesting for a moment that you do this, but, in my case, I'd like to think that my son's ability to come to terms with the situation was helped by me deciding never to badmouth his dad - however much it was tempting to do so.

For example, when he cancelled stuff at the last minute, I always tried to make light of it with my son. I'd agree - if my son said so - that it would have been politer to give us more notice but didn't go on about it and emphasised instead that he should look forward to the next occasion. I have - even with gritted teeth - told white lies for my ex when our son was much younger, 'cos I'd rather do that than have him hurt, or feel unwanted. Like I said before though, I never let the matter drop with my ex and behind the scenes, was "nagging" furiously.

As he got older I took the attitude that I wouldn't lie for my ex if asked something directly - but neither would I sound off about him in my son's hearing. I admit this was partly for selfish reasons .... I didn't want my son to think so badly of his dad that he wouldn't visit him at all & I'd never get any time to myself. I think to be scrupulously fair, my ex isn't totally "bad", but just terribly lazy and would take the easy option out whenever he could - hence me nagging - now our son's older, like I said before, their relationship seems a lot easier probably, I suspect, because there's really not much "looking after" to be done now and they can enjoy a more equal relationship "man to man".

Bugsy2 Wed 22-Jun-05 16:39:27

Sheila, could you not drop your son off at your ex's place and arrange a pick up time?
Also, how about saying that you think it is important that your son has good contact with your ex's side of the family and you were thinking of arranging time for your ds to visit his granny/grandpa on your ex's side? (Even if you have no intention of doing this, it is quite a good prod IMO).
My ex shilly shallied around about visits & will still change arrangemetnts but I put together a schedule of dates and generally speaking he has both children to stay every second weekend. Also, the children often moan & whinge a bit on the Friday afternoon that they don't want to go - but they have a great time with him. So don't be put off by your son telling you he doesn't want to go.

Sheila Thu 23-Jun-05 13:57:23

Thank you so much for your responses - it's so helpful to have such practical advice, and to know I'm not the only one who has this trouble.

I still haven't decided what to do - maybe a combination of Aloha and Bugsy's suggestions. XDP Lives 2 hours drive away so not sure I want to commit to doing the drop every week, but once a fortnight might be do-able. Catsmother - you are a saint! Must admit I'm finding it harder and harder not to diss XDP to his son, but realise that ds is the one who will be hurt most if I do.

What I do now have is some options that will make me feel a bit more in control.

Thank you again, and good luck with your own ex-other halves.

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