Why you can’t let your ex see the kids whenever he feels like it

let your ex see the kids whenever he feels like it


I recently met the mom of a teenager who had been divorced for more than 10 years. She hadn't dated since her divorce, she said, because she didn't have a predictable schedule. Her kid's dad would show up without warning — and rarely stick to any pre-determined schedule. She felt his impromptu visits and failure to show up when expected was an attempt to control her, since she could never make any plans — including with men. “I couldn't bring myself to tell my son he couldn't see his dad — especially when he was standing right there at the door,” she said, shaking her head, sadly. “He was so heart-broken that his dad never prioritized him. I didn't want to be part of the problem.”

Here's the thing: She was part of the problem.

If you don't require your kids' dad respect everyone's time with a reasonable schedule, you are perpetuating the problem.

Here are four reasons you absolutely cannot let your ex show up happenstance at your house — or with unreasonably short notice, say, within less than a few days.

  • This teaches children that it is OK for others to disrespect them. Not respecting one's schedule and time is of one of the highest insults. You can regain most of anything you have in this world. But not time.
  • This demonstrates to your children that you are not worthy of respect. Your life, schedule and time are upturned by your ex's lack of decent behavior, and that is a huge deal. Don't let your kids see you being treated like that.
  • It does not teach your children appropriate behavior of stable adults. Face it: No one operates like that. Your kids have a schedule at school, with friends, activities. You have a work schedule. I don't even talk to my mom on the phone without arranging it by text first. Showing up willy-nilly is a sign of instability.
  • By playing victim to another person's rude behavior, you give away your power. Your time, schedule, plans and LIFE are yours to make amazing. Crying that you can't date/exercise/see your girlfriends/have alone time because of your ex's nutty behavior isn't a good look.

Is this you? Does your ex refuse to stick to a visitation schedule? Act like your requests for one are a way to control him? Blame you for keeping the kids from him?

Do you have a court-ordered visitation agreement? Pull it out, make a copy, hand it to him, and tell him that that is the schedule. If he wants to change it, he is welcome to go to court and have it amended. Be polite, but firm. Say: “It is best for everyone if we all stick to a schedule. If it goes well for six months, we can start to be flexible when we need to be.”


ex whose visits are last-minuteFrom my podcast, Like A Mother:

 When an ex's visits are unpredictable

Other ways to listen: iTunes  ♦  Stitcher   ♦  TuneIn   ♦  SoundCloudGoogle Play

Give him the benefit of doubt. Remember: You are changing the dynamic. Change is hard. He thought he could control you, but you are letting him know he can't. He won't like this. Give him an opportunity to step in line.

If he shows up on, say, Saturday evening and asks to take the kids for ice cream, even though his visit is not until Wednesday, answer the door. Try not to let the kids see, but accept that they might. Tell him that this is the last time you are opening the door for a time that outside of his visitation.

Let him leave. The end. See ya Wednesday!

If he doesn't leave?

Be prepared to call the police. Then call your lawyer — or find one via a friend .

I do not say that lightly. Early in my divorce, I had to call the police. I think there are lots of times people call the police during divorces that is unwarranted. Just because you're really angry doesn't mean that the cops need to be called. However, sometimes the other party just doesn't understand that because he used to live in the house that is now yours, that he can't just be there when he wants — and will not leave your apartment. Or, just because children with whom he shares joint custody live in a building, that he isn't allowed to have keys to that building. In my case, I couldn't make the other person understand those basic concepts. But a couple of giant, burly officers' presence did make him understand.

So: Be prepared to call the police, and file a report.

If you threaten to call the police, then you must call the police. He already doesn't respect you. Empty threats will make that worse.

If things get to this point, then you do need to documenting this unstable behavior.

Police and courts will likely escalate things, at least temporarily. But they can and do get better. In my case, things got much, much better. But it took outside agencies to impose the rules. It is ugly and embarrassing. For me, a low point. But it had to happen.

You don't have a visitation agreement? Go to family court this week, and request a hearing to get one. I also recommend hiring an attorney if you can at all afford one. You are very vulnerable without a custody and visitation agreement, regardless of whether you were married to your kids' ex, live in the same state or country, whether you seek/get child support, whether or not he ever sees those kids.

Caveats: OK, maybe you have one of those Gweth Paltrow dreamy divorces where you both blow in and out of each other's homes unprompted, are BFFs with the other's new significant other, and vacation together with your collective broods to the Maldives. Yay you.

This post is for everyone else.

How about you? Does your ex do this? DID he do it? How did you manage it?


Up next:

  • What to do when your ex cancels visits at the last minute. All the time.
  • Why you have to chill out and be more flexible about visitations.
  • Why every single mom needs a custody and visitation schedule.


About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Del on August 22, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Mine went AWOL, moved to a different state, lost most of his teeth, blew through the 401k (MINE) that he was granted during the divorce (who the hell blows through 40k in 2 months?), is currently couch-surfing, and stopped even bothering to write to our son. Debating if it would stir things up to go to the courts and modify the agreement, to find a way to restrict it even more if he chooses to act upon it (he’s heavily abusing drugs right now – prefer to not have him around the boy). It’s approaching 2 yrs since physical contact, and 6 months since any phone call. Or, do I wait until he decides to stumble his way to our new home and to claim parental rights before acting. I’d rather have him just disappear completely. I don’t need him. Neither does our child.

    • Emma on August 22, 2016 at 10:15 am

      Man, what a messy situation, I’m sorry. I understand the temptation to avoid courts, but sounds like you are definitely dealing with an unstable person. Get to the court this week.

  2. Amanda on August 22, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    What about the ex that is always late? He is supposed to get the boys every other weekend on Saturday at 9am. I’m not talking like 5 minutes late. I mean like 9:30 and 10. Am I coming off as crazy for being annoyed by this? I’m one of those people that are always on time because I truly believe it is a respectable thing to do. It’s been like this for the past year. His excuse being that he is tired. Would your post apply to my situation or do I chill out about it?

    • Emma on August 23, 2016 at 8:56 am

      That was our story, and I feel exactly how you do. Now I drop off the kids on weekends, or he has after-school visits – so we eliminated this mostly.

  3. Arneice on August 25, 2016 at 12:57 am

    I feel like I’m at the point where I want to go the court route. My son’s father stated that he should be able to get his sone whenever he wants to, and I try to accommodate his requests. Which is the problem…he has gotten comfortable with calling to say he is getting his son in an hour and then I oblige. He barely pays me…and basically wants all the rights of a full time parent with none of the responsibility.

    • Emma on August 25, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      ” wants all the rights of a full time parent with none of the responsibility.” I get that 100% and it annoys and offends me to no end- but ultimately you can’t make someone be a better dad.

  4. Tobe on March 18, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    Seems like an older thread but thank you so much ;) This is me! And it my fault for allowing it and not setting boundaries. I’m seeing a therapist who is helping me firmly stand on my wants and demand respect. He misses visitation. That’s his choice. This is not a 7 Eleven. I’m enforcing a 72 hour rule. 6 months and I’ll allow some flexibility. Thanks so much I felt I was so alone in this!

  5. Lillie on April 11, 2017 at 2:53 am

    Reading this is very reaffirming. I have a court ordered visitation schedule but my manipulative ex has discovered loopholes in it and is using them against me. I, now, am finding myself going back to court to make amendments to the order. Your article reaffirmed that I’m not just over reacting to the situation.

  6. Jessica Santana on October 29, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    I need help and going through the same thing. I have full custody however we have a schedule that my ex doesn’t seem to stick to always late, rude with excuses, & there’s never consequences. What do I do? I am so angry because it’s recently caused me my year+ relationship. All because I try and keep the peace but he’s just a rude disrespectful person to not be considerate of the other person’s home or schedule. Suggestions?

  7. Kate on July 23, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    In the last 2 years, my ex-husband has only spent 14 hours with our son (5 hours one day, and 9 hours another day a year and a half later.) It’s now been a complete year with no contact from him at all (no letters, cards, gifts, calls, or video chats.) He seems to have no interest in utilizing the visitation stipulated in the custody agreement. I know from his mother that he is in town for the next few days and I expect she will convince him to ask to see his son. On one hand I don’t want to deny my child the tiny amount of time that he might get with his father, but I’m concerned it might just cause my son more hurt and confusion. I know from my ex’s mother that this trip was planned months in advance, but my ex hasn’t bothered to contact me about visitation yet so if he does it will be very last minute. In this type of scenario would you make an exception to allowing visitation with no notice?

  8. Kayla on May 9, 2019 at 6:58 am

    I have a question, my parenting agreement is 50/50. My ex shows up every one of my weekends to my childs dance and swimming lessons, even sometimes in the mornings when doing school drop offs. Is this interference that I should be correcting? If so how do I do that?

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