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Is Your Co-Parent Manipulating the Visitation Schedule? 10 Tips

by | Apr 18, 2024 | 0 comments

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

Are you tired of your ex manipulating the visitation schedule?

I mean, for god’s sake, why are they messing around with time with their child?

If you’re dealing with a narcissistic co-parent, it’s because they want control.

It’s as simple as that.

But when your ex consistently changes plans, cancels visits, or makes last-minute alterations, it’s the kiddos that suffer.

Don’t get me wrong—life happens! There are going to be times when even the most responsible co-parents need to make changes.

But when they’re happening all the time without a good explanation, then that’s manipulation.

If you find yourself in this situation, it can definitely be challenging.

Here are some tips to help you navigate visitation schedule manipulation:

What to Do if Your Ex is Manipulating the Visitation Schedule

The sad reality of co-parenting with a narcissist is that they are not likely going to come around and realize that what they are doing sucks.

In fact, the more you let them do it, the worse it will get!

Fortunately, there are ways you can squash parenting time manipulation:

1. Get the Visitation Schedule in Writing

First, make sure you have your visitation schedule in writing.

Having a written agreement helps prevent misunderstandings and provides a reference point in case there’s a dispute.

The plan should outline specific visitation times, pickup and drop-off locations, and any other details.

2. Set Rules for Cancellations and Changes

One thing about visitation schedules that is often overlooked is the rules about cancellations and changes.

Figure out how much notice you have to give each other if the visitation has to be canceled. You should also determine if makeup time will be provided for canceled visits.

When you set these rules upfront, you can reduce the likelihood of manipulation.

3. Establish Boundaries

So once you have the visitation schedule figured out, you can set some boundaries.

For example, you can say that if your ex is a no-show, then they don’t get to make up for lost time.

Or, you can say that you will wait 20 minutes for your ex. If they don’t show up or contact you, then it’s a no-show.

(These are actual boundaries that were established in my court order, so these are completely reasonable.)

Setting boundaries is going to cut down visitation schedule manipulation. If you’re not going to tolerate no-shows, then not showing up doesn’t give them any control. 

4. Stick to the Agreed-Upon Schedule

So all that being said, it’s important that both you and your co-parent stick to the agreed-upon schedule – being flexible only when necessary.

Not only does this keep you from getting frustrated, but consistency is important for your kiddo.

The more your ex futzes with the schedule, the more confusing it is for your child. Do the best you can to keep the visitation schedule consistent.

5. Have a Backup Plan

Stay one step ahead of your narcissistic co-parent by anticipating the possibility that they will cancel or try to change visitation plans.

I know many parents who make plans that hinge on their child being with their other parent, only to go into a panic when that parent cancels or doesn’t show.

While it seems only fair that your co-parent takes responsibility for the visitation schedule, these situations are often anything but fair.

So, always make sure you have a backup plan, whether that means childcare or doing something fun with your kiddo.

This will help minimize disruptions to your life and your child’s life while making sure your child feels valued.

6. Keep a Custody Journal

Perhaps the most important thing you can do when your ex manipulates the visitation schedule is to DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.

Keep a journal and write down instances of visitation interference, cancellations, and any other relevant information.

I kept all of this information in a spreadsheet to show when my ex never showed up and when he canceled. It gave this big-picture look at how inconsistent he was with being a father.

This journal (or spreadsheet) is invaluable if you end up in court or if you already have a court order. 

7. Communicate Through Text or Email

If you’re co-parenting with a narcissist, I know the last thing you want to do is confront them about visitation schedule manipulation.

I know it’ll probably just turn into a fight.

However, there’s an important reason why you need to communicate these issues with your ex: Court.

Judges pay attention to which parent is responsible, civil, and reasonable and which one is a nutbar. And when it comes to communication, they don’t care how you do it.

So, to get evidence and prevent conflict, stick to texts or emails with your ex. You can learn all the wonderful reasons why you should limit communication in this way here!

8. Validate Your Child’s Feelings

Let’s not forget that no matter how much your ex is driving you insane, your children are also affected by visitation schedule manipulation.

Imagine what it must feel like to have a child not show up and spend time with you. Or a parent that constantly tries to pull you away from the parent you live with.

It’s a bummer, and it can do a real number on a kid’s self-esteem.

But you can support your kiddo by encouraging them to express how they feel and reminding them that how their other parent treats them is not their fault.

Just make sure they know that their feelings are valid and that you are there to support them.

9. Co-Parenting App

If you’re finding it hard to keep track of communication and schedules, you can always use a co-parenting app like OurFamilyWizard.

OurFamilyWizard is a centralized platform for sharing calendars and documenting communication. Some judges will actually mandate an app like this in custody agreements.

Co-parenting apps help streamline the process and keep everything in one place – especially evidence you can use in court.

(If you click the link above and sign up, I receive a small commission at no cost to you – but there’s a free trial you can check out as well!)

10. Court Order

Ultimately, if your ex continues to manipulate the visitation schedule despite your efforts, it may be time to seek legal intervention.

A court order is a legal document that establishes guidelines for visitation. Violation of the agreement has consequences.

I do want to say that a court order may not necessarily 100% align with your wishes. Your attorneys will hash out concerns and try to come to an agreement that works for you and your ex.

However, having had a court order, I recommend one. Even though I didn’t get everything I “wanted,” it made a huge difference when it came to keeping my ex accountable.

If you’re ready to take that step, consult with a family law attorney to explore your options and protect your rights.

How to Prove Visitation Manipulation in Court

While parenting time manipulation is certainly annoying, it can easily get out of hand.

If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve had enough, and you want to take it to court, here’s what you need to do to prove your case:

Gather Evidence

Yes, I’m going to say it again: EVIDENCE! Collecting evidence is key to substantiating your claims of visitation manipulation. 

Use the co-parenting app, spreadsheet, or custody journal to document instances of manipulation. You should also keep emails and texts.

If you have a lawyer, they can comb through everything and pick out what the judge will care about and use that in court.

Witness Testimony

Getting witnesses to testify can strengthen your case.

You can get testimony from people who have firsthand knowledge of visitation schedule manipulation or have seen it happen.

These witnesses can include friends, family members, childcare providers, teachers, and therapists.

Family Law Attorney

While I have seen parents represent themselves in court, I wouldn’t suggest going it alone.

I know lawyers aren’t cheap, but they are good at what they do, and they can guide you through what’s relevant and what will help your case.

If you can’t afford one, see if your local family law office offers free one-hour consultations or look into a legal aid program.

Dealing With Parenting Time Manipulation

Dealing with a co-parent that manipulates the visitation schedule sucks.

It’s super frustrating to think that someone would focus on futzing with their parenting time rather than spending time with their kid.

But there are ways you can deal with it and create a better situation for your child! Use these tips to keep your visitation arrangements fair and consistent.

How do you deal with visitation schedule manipulation? Share your tips with us in the comments below!


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