coparenting rules ex cancels visits all the time and last-minute

One of single moms' most common frustrations — and by frustrations, I mean ENRAGEMENTS — is dads who don't stick to visitation schedules. This might man they fail to show up for scheduled visits, cancel at the last minute — or show up unannounced, or ask for last-minute visits, messing up your life and plans.

Dads, if you don't follow the visitation schedule, this is why this is totally, absolutely unacceptable:

  • Your co-parent is not a 24-hour bodega. She and your kids are entitled to a schedule, the ability to plan, and to count on a routine.
  • Parenting is not optional. You have a responsibility to your kids, and blowing them off is irresponsible, unethical, and just generally crappy.
  • It breaks your children's hearts when you don't show. They will remember.
  • Being lackadaisical about seeing your children sets a horrible example for your kids, and any other children in your life (e.g., your new girlfriend's kids, or children you now have with another woman).
  • Even last-minute cancelations are horrible. This lets down your children, and shows a total lack of respect for their mother, who is doing the majority of your work in raising them. You are 50 percent responsible for your kids. Every minute more than 50 percent that their mother takes is a favor to you, since you cannot or will not step up. Blowing off your time with your kids is so disrespectful of this service she is already providing for you. When you don't show up, that means that she has to cancel her plans — including a quiet evening alone with a nice, uninterrupted meal, her shows, and the dog by her side. Or, a date, because she is an adult and she is no longer your wife or girlfriend. Or a workout, or work. Her time is valuable, and you are messing with it and that is wrong.

Question for you, dude: Are you trying to control your kid's mom by creating chaos in her schedule? Are you jealous of her new man, or otherwise trying to punish her?

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

  • Everyone needs a schedule. Kids thrive on schedules. Moms need schedules so they can organize their lives. You need a schedule. Dude, you need a schedule. I understand that your work may be unpredictable and harried. But work with your kids' mom. She probably wants you to be involved.
  • If you do have to miss a visit, IMMEDIATELY offer to reschedule. YOU suggest the new time. Your ex is not your secretary. Say: “I'm really sorry but work called me in this weekend and I can't see the kids. What do you say that I take them Wednesday through Friday instead? Or, is there another time that works for you?” That shows her that you are serious about your children, that you recognize the value of your time with them — and the impact of missing a visit.

[29 rules for co-parenting]

Co-parenting guidelines if your kids' dad does not show

If your ex fails to see the kids  consistently or cancels last minute, this is what you do:

  • Make sure you have a visitation schedule, and have it authorized through family court. Even if you were never married, you need to get this legally formalized.
  • Get honest with yourself: Do you contribute to the situation? You and I might make sure we see our kids, no matter what asshole tries to get involved. But, ask yourself:
    • Do you help create drama at pick-up or drop-off that might discourage your ex from showing up?
    • Do you try to micro-manage his time with the kids, creating a situation in which it's very stressful for him to parent?
    • Do you otherwise not support him in his parenting? Remember, especially if you have the kids the majority of the time, it can be really hard for even the best-intentioned dads to find a parenting groove, and confidence.

What if a parent is late for visitation?

Ultimately, it is not your responsibility to teach him how to be a good dad or manipulate him into showing up. He is an adult, a parent, and that is his responsibility. But see what you can do to facilitate visits, even if it means doing more than you already are (which is no doubt a lot).

  • Document everything. Keep a calendar and note all the times he is late, doesn't show, cancels less than 3 days in advance, or cancels for reasons that are not reasonable — he has a date, is tired, not in the mood, had a fight with his boss, wants to go out, has a friend visiting.
  • Go to court and get his visitations reduced. Bring your documentation, explain the affects this has on the kids and your own life, and ask the judge to reduce the number of times each week or month you have to be disappointed and your life upturned.
  • You may need to call your lawyer — or find one via a friend. Online legal services are also affordable ways lots of people can get quality advice.
  • In other words: If he wants to see his kids, it can work to make him fight for it (as it stands, he takes visits for granted. Switch it up). It might seem counterintuitive, or passive-aggressive, but as it stands, he takes his time with the kids for granted, and approaches it with a sense of entitlement. Change that up. I tried this, and it worked.
  • Be open to or even ask the judge for therapeutic visits. This means the court orders the dad, the kids, and maybe even you go to therapy.

[Online therapy can be a great option for families — compared with face-to-face therapy, video, chat, text, and voice therapy is affordable, convenient and anonymous. Check out our top online therapy companies]

While I work on my legacy of mandating that every custody discussion and hearing start with the presumption of 50-50 custody and visitation, we are stuck in a very sexist society that presumes that dads suck at parenting and moms are by default the superior parent. It can be hard for dads to see their value to their kids (especially since you likely make all or most of the money that supports the kids). It can also be hard for everyone to see through their anger, and focus on what is really best for the kids:

Two actively involved parents, both committed to a civilized relationship with each other. 

Co-parenting schedule and boundaries

On the other side of the extreme is the dad who shows up, announced, whenever he feels like it — or asks for impromptu visits, with little regard for your time or plans.

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.

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4 reasons you need to set co-parenting boundaries:

Why you 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?

Use your 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.”

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.

What to do if 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. A DIY online divorce service can be a great, affordable tool to get you the documents and advice you need — whether you were married or not.

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.

Co-parenting communication guidelines

When communicating with your kid's other parent, communication is key. Whether by text, phone or in-person:

  • Stick to the facts, and information he needs to know
  • Don't get emotional
  • Don't lecture him
  • Respond promptly
  • Communicate as you hope he would communicate with you
  • Don't respond if he gets angry/ lectures / threatens / gets emotional

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

About Emma Johnson founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.


  1. Kaleb on July 19, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    What about moms who refuse to show up with the kid to scheduled visits with their father who has flown in from out of state?

  2. Mario on April 21, 2019 at 2:59 pm


    What about when the mom is the one that every time my days comes, she creates an activity or event that she cannot give the kids on my days. I have giving her the opportunity to have them half a day if it’s a holiday on my day and she consistently drop them off late. So I cannot do anything with them by then. What should I do when that happens? She has them 5 days and then she won’t give them to me on my days.

  3. SadMommy on November 20, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    My consult with an attorney summed up: try to avoid him getting anything put through the courts. But this article says you’re vulnerable without a court order. In my state the father in an unmarried situation has no rights until he files a motion. In my case I’ve cared for my daughter entirely, financially and otherwise, and he’s only seen her a few times. He has nothing to do with her but uses her as an excuse to keep tabs on me and give demands with the threat of trying to fight me for her. He has a very toxic personal life and a drug related felony that he obtained while we were not together. He knows my fears for her safety is why I’ve been compliant but this has continued for years and is simply not permanently sustainable. In my state if he asks for visits he is practically guaranteed to get it. Seems by not having a court order, i at least have the benefit of the chance of saying no, as he has no visitation rights other than what i agree to. Once he gets visits I’m very limited on protecting her from him or his company. So why the statement made about being vulnerable without a court order? I just want to better understand.

    • Brett on January 21, 2019 at 9:11 pm

      I’m in the same boat but my sons dad actually did file paperwork and I never ever thought he would and I’m terrified of the outcome

    • Courtney on October 14, 2019 at 5:59 pm

      Hello, I currently have a court order in which my ex sees his son Friday to Sunday every other weekend, I offer to allow him to see his son more as at the age of two our son still hasn’t taken to him He cheated on me while I was pregnant and after our child was born got into a relationship with another woman with a child and completely neglected his son, didn’t see him for the first 9 months of our sons life despite me asking. He was mentally and emotionally abusive so I cut all contact. He then took me to court for visitations ( pushed by his mother.) But he never keeps to the court order. We recently tried again with our relationship and he was an amazing father, wantind to be around his son and just generally a good attentive dad… Until I found he had cheated again. And since then he missed 3 court ordered weekend ends in a row ( six weeks without seeing his son) and he now has another girlfriend, when he had bothered to show up he hands out son over to friends to spend time with the new woman ( I’ve seen pictures on social media of my son in pubs surrounded by alcohol and strangers). And has cancelled 3 weekday visitations on the day. What he had done to me I can get over even talking face to face trying to be civil but what he continues to do to my child is completely heartbreaking and I don’t know what to do, I work part time and have no money for a lawyer. He’s even
      threatened to stop paying csa. Any way he can try to hurt me or control the situation he does and I’m out of options and at the end of my rope, I don’t know what to do, I can’t make him see his child. I just need some advice on what to do.

  4. Not Fair on January 18, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    Yep it’s frustrating.. If the other person doesn’t do their part in financing and then keeps canceling at last moment. Your child keeps asking about that parent. When shopping, being tired and all those other excuses are more important that keeping your word.. It’s frustrating. If it happens once or twice, totally understandable, but when there is a pattern to canceling. No excuses.. Not fair to my child.

  5. Blow Me on December 6, 2017 at 3:36 am

    ““If he wants to see his kids, make him fight for it”

    That statement right there is EVERYTHING that is wrong with you fucking cunts! As we all know, women are PERFECT, and would NEVER be at fault for anything in co-parenting situations (rolls eyes)! It’s not like you didn’t make his life miserable enough when you were together, now you want to do the same thing when you are split! Did you twatwaffles ever stop to think that making it harder to see the kid might hurt the kid more than the father??? Oh, I forgot, women can do no wrong! How about you stop accepting his child support money? If he is such a disgrace, why would you accept his money??? Oh, I know why! Because that is your golden ticket to get your hair and nails done, pay your cellphone bill, go to the bar, things like that! Perhaps if you had a fucking job, you would understand that schedules change! After all, him working is the reason you get that free (and too much) money every month!

    “This lets down your children, and shows a total lack of respect for their mother, who is doing the majority of your work in raising them. You are 50 percent responsible for your kids. Every minute more than 50 percent that their mother takes is a favor to you, since you cannot or will not step up.”

    WOW! Look at how arrogant you bitches are! The guy is out there busting his ass to support his kid (someone has to) and THIS is your attitude??? Why don’t YOU go get a job and pay HIM child support??? No wonder you are considered to be the inferior sex!

    • CalmDownThereBuddy on December 23, 2017 at 6:27 pm

      lol dude you need to get off your high horse. You do realize there are also a lot of deadbeat dads out there that don’t even offer child support and still have the audacity to show up late and cancel on seeing their children? Don’t you think women think about how it will affect their child if they see their father less often? Otherwise it would be their first choice to cut the dads off and keep accepting all this “disgraceful money” you’re speaking of. A lot of women support themselves and their children. Jesus Christ I feel bad for whoever has to deal with you in their lives.

      • CalmDownThereBuddy on December 23, 2017 at 6:29 pm

        They also even wrote a section asking “Do you contribute to the situation?” so I dont see how she’s saying all women are “PERFECT”, asshole.

      • Fuck your narciscism on September 17, 2018 at 1:09 pm

        Well this cunt supports her child and has full custody because her father is a drug addict he’s suppose to support his daughter but he doesn’t …… no money never shows up for visits . So please tell me when I can go get my nails done or go to the bar or all those wonderful things single people do not single parents. This article is for parents who are actually dealing with dads ir moms that are not contributing period.

    • J on September 9, 2018 at 4:39 am

      I actually agree, the women need to be more flexible and take in to account that Dad’s have very hard work schedules and a lot of bosses DON”T care about their “visitation schedule” you either do what the boss says or you are out, (and I am a WOMAN saying this)

      • BonusMomOf2Princes on April 12, 2019 at 6:16 pm

        That’s so true! There is a noticeable double standard. Mom’s in the workplace are treated differently than dad’s in the workplace. It’s expected that mom’s will take time off for the kids etc. managers don’t really question… but they are NOT flexible or lenient with dad’s at all. They treat many fathers as if they don’t even have a family. Unfortunately this actually forces the women to handle everything if their husband feels pressure from their boss that they can’t leave work or take off. It’s sad…. even with Paternal leave. We don’t live in a time that promotes happy family life and stability at home. We also don’t live in a time that encourages good strong equal parenting. By default a father has to fight for his right to be a father to his child even if the mother is without a doubt unfit. Mother’s and father’s SHOULD have equal opportunity to care for and make decisions for their children. I see too many cases where a mom speaks as if a child is a piece of property she owns. She completely strips the man of his right to be a father. Just because we carry the child in our womb doesn’t mean we OWN them. The father has the right to provide input, agree or disagree with any decision. (Not all father’s are bad and certainly not all mothers are good just because they have custody)

      • BonusMomOf2Princes on April 12, 2019 at 6:22 pm

        And if the ather gets fired from his job guess what… then they are labeled deadbeat because they have no money to pay child support. There’s no help for them… but now they can face jail simply because they don’t have money. If we get fired from a job we are just struggling single moms trying to make ends meet. People feel sorry for us… but there are tons of programs out there we can benefit from and we can also pursue an increase in child support that the father will be forced to pay whether he can afford it or not.

    • Brett on January 21, 2019 at 2:15 am

      Dude everyone’s situation is so different!! You can’t just generalize everyone into one category, as the author of this article states that our system is fucked up and think moms are the best and dads are mostly dead beat scum bags which isnt fair because it is not always true but unfortunately the father will never be able to truly feel the bond of carrying the baby and growing an amazing little human inside of you and go through all the body changes and mental changes, then go through the craziest experience that is labor that a man couldn’t even imagine even if he’s there watching. That child and the mama will always be conected because we will literally always be apart of each other, especially with mothers of boys, part of your sons DNA will be in your brain forever. Now see I’m not hating, who the fuck doesn’t love a good dad??? But when my basically sperm donor makes zero and I mean zero effort to bond with the baby I grew and loved and sang to and talked to and worked my ass off during the whole pregnancy while my ex sat on his unemployed ass smoked weed all and took his prescription pain pills and shut us out with his noise canceling head phones while playing video games literally like 20 hours a day. In the hospital when I was in labor for over 40 hours a week over due and then pushed for 5 hours just to end up getting a c section cause no ten pound baby would come out of my tiny body, the baby finally
      Comes out and what happens??? I had to remind the dumb ass to take pics of my first baby and he said he let both our phones die , he was no help ever, the nurses were in shock when I was immediately getting up to get the baby after just being cut open and sperm donor is sleeping like a baby the entire time, he REFUSED to do skin to skin contact with my amazing baby that’s how strong his lack of effort was! It was unreal. All of the nurses wanted to kick his ass out lol then something went seriously wrong and I had to go handle that but when I was finally done I get back to my room to the photographer having already took the pics of the baby and this retard had included hismelf into the babies first pictures ever the dude was dirty hadn’t showered in days hadn’t changed his clothes in days did shave it was all bad he could have ask the photographer to come back when I got back. So then not to mention this is an abusive man who puts hands on me in front of my beautiful baby when he was about three months old, so I was done I called
      The cops he fled the scene cause you know that doesn’t scream guilty well what does he do after beating me up he convinces the cops to arrest me while I’m breast feeding and hold my sleeping baby. The cops don’t care how the baby will be fed or if he will be injured or maybe even. Killed by a man witn zero patience, it was the most terrifying thing that ever happened to me,
      Mother fucking Washington state police told me flat out that because my babies dad is ex military and so are both the cops it was just my lucky day, I guess, that they were flat out giving him a get out of jail free card and he believes that it is very real and he is untouchable so the cops tell me they take me to jail I get out first thing in the morning the charges will get dropped and it’s all good, but if they had arrested the real abuser he would have done 30 plus days and never see his kids again, not to mention the other two kids he has that he never gave two fucks about, so sad, I really picked a winner. I spent one night away from my baby and got to get the fuck out of that abusive hell hole. Only for him to come after me almost two years later ugh man get a life move on to the next victim and let me and my beautiful gorgeous amazing baby alone!!!!! So as you can see sir everyone’s situations are different, I had a dead beat mom and my dad raised us, my son will only know love and kindness he will not be a Hensley, I will do everything in my power to teach him to be a good hearted person and I know I will have to work extra extra hard to counteract the evil things his sperm donors genetics has in store. Sorry went on one hell of a rant but fuck that bullshit! My baby my son that is a living breathing smart funny human being is sooooo beyond special to me and when his dad legit doesn’t care about him or his other kids but wants to use my child as a pawn in a game against me just for his entertainment it’s very very upsetting and so so saddening

    • Marylynn on June 28, 2019 at 7:12 pm

      Actually I personally gave my ex the kids when we split up I was terrified of being a single mom he said he could do a better job than me and I said okidokie. I paid him 400 a month got them every other weekend asked him every time I got them if he needed anything mostly met with silence sense he went back to his other baby momma and the separation was fairly new and I guess he thought he would be happy going back to her. But 6 months later he dropped them off at my house said he couldn’t do it and told me to figure it out. It was scary but I did it. In our divorce I gave him extensive visitation rights (I had a lawyer he didnt so I also paid for the whole divorce myself.) but he only sees them every other weekend and doesn’t really pay child support. I work full time and go to school and he’s without a job right now so idk about all that. Each situation is totally different if I could I choose to do extensive visitation over full custody i would it’s easy being the visiting parent it’s hard as fuck being the one with sole custody.

    • Brittney n newman on March 11, 2020 at 11:50 am

      All these people bashing mom…a fathers work schedule is hard blah blah…you know what a responsible parent would do? Find a job that they can be there for visitation or pick up or whatever….you know…like mom does…. Mom figures it out why cant dad? Thats double standards. To the person calling us “cunts” and saying to get a job….its very ignorant of you to assume none of us work..

    • Exactly on July 19, 2020 at 5:54 pm

      I feel ya man.

  6. Andy on October 6, 2016 at 5:26 am

    “If he wants to see his kids, make him fight for it (as it stands, he takes visits for granted. Switch it up).”

    What is that supposed to accomplish, won’t it just turn him further away from sharing the parenting burden?

    • Emma on October 6, 2016 at 10:33 am

      It actually can be effective. As it stands, he takes for granted that he doesn’t need to see his kids. Try it – it works.

    • Janice on February 16, 2020 at 3:36 pm

      The author is specifically addressing situations in which the man is not consistent and unstable in his visitation times. So, yeah, in this case, making him work a little to get his visits may make him realize he needs to get it together and show up when needed, not just when it’s convenient for him.

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