I want you to think about this; when we put labels on parents such as “custodial” and “non-custodial” would you agree that we are creating a winner and a loser? I think it’s also safe to say we are also an image in the mind of the child, such as “my dad lost in the divorce?”  Doesn’t this create a stigma, that the child’s father is a loser? Of course, it does. When my parents divorced in the late ’70s, the phrases “custody” and “visitations” were used. My mother had custody and my father had his bi-monthly weekend “visits.” It’s no wonder that during my weekends with my dad, I never felt “at home” when with him. My father, never missed one weekend, child support, or alimony check in those 15 years! As I look back today, I’m convinced that terms such as “visitations” ingrained in my mind from such an early age, impacted how I would view time spent with my father, and how I viewed him. This saddens me greatly. Here you have a man devoted to his children in every sense of the word, yet the cards were stacked against him, and he would be viewed in the mind of his young daughter as merely someone who visits with his children!

Having a winner and a loser only creates dysfunction and chaos in the families.  Sadly, children become possessions to fight over, where one parent will use the children as leverage, revenge, and control. In another word, parental alienation then ensues. Fathers will sense their removal from a position of importance within the family, to now a position with little significance and have very little meaningful input into the lives of their children. This is done by the family courts, health professionals, and now the former wife.

 When fathers sense their removal from a position of importance within the family to a position with little significant input into the lives of their children by the courts, mental health professionals, and a gatekeeping former wife, the noncustodial father often feels compelled to make each visit as positive as possible. This results in his becoming what is often called a Disneyland Dad. 

He goes places with his kids, buys them the things they want, and invests himself in whatever way he can in this artificially contrived relationship. He refuses to be a disciplinarian because the time with his children is so limited. The little time he has with his children he wants to be positive. His ex-wife perceives this as his means of undermining her authority and portraying her as the “bad cop” in the lives of the children. Both role loss and infrequent visiting, contribute to a father’s feelings of a lack of influence, control, and importance with their children, which may result in less visiting and, for some, an ending of parenting altogether. Many men, who were highly involved, affectionate parents when married, reported that they could not tolerate the pain of only intermittently seeing their children. Two years after a divorce, a large percent of fathers found the frequency of their visits, diminished. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of children have no contact at all with the non-custodial parent.

Studies suggest that low levels of father involvement following a divorce, are the reactions of fathers to difficult situations. As a divorce coach for men, I stress the importance of doing away with the labels such as “non-custodial” or “visitations” to my clients. Thinking of yourself as their father will impact how you navigate this chapter and solidify your bond with your children. Never allow these labels or terms to become a self-fulfilling prophecy because if you do, it will cost you your relationship with your children.

Hayley Lisa

The Divorce Coach for Men