Does your ex spend MORE time with the kids post-divorce?

I’ve heard it time and again:

While they they were married, he worked a bazillion hours, rarely helped around the house, barely made time for the kids and spent any free time or money doing whatever the eff he wanted.

She was overwhelmed, angry, felt abandoned and worried – and the kids felt abandoned by him, too.

Then, when they split up, he was forced to change. Now, thanks to a court- or separation-agreement order, he is is forced to spend two entire weekends per month and Wednesday evenings with the children. She gets a break, and the kids see their dad regularly and often.

“I almost can’t believe what a better dad he is now, after the divorce,” one mom told me. She is happier about the arrangement on all fronts, even if it cost her the marriage. “I don’t want to be married to him any more, and if it took divorce to snap him into being a good father, then it was worth it.” Plus, for the first time in her motherhood she gets a much-needed break — every single week.

What is the motivation behind this about-face?

For one, regret. It is often the horrible shock of facing that his family is falling apart to make him realize how much he took family life for granted.

When family life is constantly buzzing in the background, it can feel like it is an all-consuming presence, even if in reality you spend little actual — not to mention quality — time with those you love most. When you’re sitting at the edge of a naked mattress, staring at your flatscreen TV with bunk beds barely assembled in the next room and leftover Seamless containers in the fridge, the pain of loneliness can be very real.

Second, shame is a powerful motivator. While risking scrutiny of family court judges, highly paid lawyers, and friends and neighbors peering over the proverbial fence to see if he will be a negligent, deadbeat dad, peer pressure inspires him to step up.

And yes, of course women can be the negligent parent, but that is the minority of cases.

From the moms’ perspective there is often another emotion at play: A sense of triumph. “I admit that I sometimes gloat when we discuss the hours he will spend with the kids,” one mom confessed. “For so many years he insisted that he was doing enough, but the divorce lawyers, the couples therapist and his family all made him feel bad for not spending enough time with them. I hate to say it, but I get off on the fact that he knows I was right, and he was wrong.”

Smugness aside, there is something to be said about the value of divorce in these cases. While we all want the divorce rate to be lower than it is, see clear evidence of the financial, physical and emotional benefits to marriage, sometimes a marital split is better for the whole family. After all, if divorce means that one partner gets the parenting support she needs, the kids get more time with the previously negligent parent, and that negligent parent steps up to fulfill his potential as a father, isn’t the net sum of this equation positive?

Is this your experience? What happened? What advice do you have for married moms whose husbands neglect the kids? Can he be inspired to change without divorce?

Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, 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,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

9 thoughts on “Does your ex spend MORE time with the kids post-divorce?

  1. I don’t know if he’s any better of a father. But he has arranged his farm work schedule now to be with the kids more when before he couldn’t be bothered. I still worry that he shuttles them off to his parents, who live next door to him.

  2. This article rings true on so many levels ! My ex definitely spends more quality with the kids since the divorce than when we were married. The kids are benefitting and I am finally getting the break that I need when they are with him.

  3. Sadly, my ex spends very little with my daughter post-divorce. It wasn’t a priority when we were married, and it’s a very low priority now. Also, he seems to need to plan an activity to do anything with her -movie, swimming, etc. Otherwise he doesn’t want to take her because “I don’t know what we’re going to do.” I’m thinking – hey, you’re her dad. Spend time with her!

    1. Sadly, these stories are all too common, too. Hang in there — maybe in some time he will turn it around. Sometimes it takes the kid getting older, or him getting more adjusted to single dad life to forge a new relationship with his kid? Don’t give up on him yet.

  4. Its interesting, this article is very true but slightly different for me. Yes my ex does spend more time with our kids post divorce but its the way that he spends his time with them that surprised me. See, I know that there are so many times where he would take them to the playground or the mall and just lets them run around without really spending time with them, which is what I totally expected from him. Getting in the hours but not the quality of getting to know our kids and being a part of their lives at all. But after three years apart I’m starting to see my ex become more “in to” our kids. He’s getting to know them as people, he listens to them as people (their 5 & 7 so little people), hears their stories about camp and games they play and learns what they want to do. My son has been asking to go on a zip line so he found a place to take him and do that. My daughter wants to only sing songs and dance and he comes over to do that with her only. I have to say that I’m so happy for both my kids and him. If we had stayed together (which would have been disastrous for all) he would never have branched out in this way with them. Sense he and I have an amicable divorce and get along, I feel with this new facet of connection with our kids we have created a new version of family where we are all happy. And yes, mommy gets to catch up on all her DVR’d shows during the down time!

  5. Nope, my H was a wonderful dad during our mariage, even though more the playful and less responsible guy, then left me suddenly for a 12 year younger woman and since sees them not even once a year. Always changing dates in the last minute to screw up our holiday plans (infact I don´t even do them anymore but resign to last minute, luckily I have a understanding boss).

  6. Oh, and in my case I think it is the younger woman, probably on the start to get her own family inline, always pushing to get ´their´ holidays when it is convenient for her – or to purposefully manipulate him into having less time with the kids) with which he will live (for how many years?) and I fear that will be another strain for ´our´ kids (or rather ´my´ only now, sigh) now, who are already heartbroken. They fell they don´t know him anymore and with the oldest puberty starting she now does not want to see him anymore. Guess it is you get what you give with kids… Guess also it might be a hormonal thing for some guys, like when they are with a new women, they forget their first lot of cubs…or such (sigh again – and certainly not saying all men are like that, there are many great dads out there!

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