Visitation: How to Curb Last-Minute Schedule Changes

Create and maintain healthy boundaries with your ex

Girl holding father's hand, looking up
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Creating a regular parent-child visitation schedule sets a family routine, even when the family lives in two different homes. Children want to know when they can see each parent and tend to do best with consistency and structure. However, at times a need to change the schedule may arise -- for you, your ex, or your kids. Maintaining some flexibility makes occasional adjustments easier to handle and can foster a sense of teamwork between co-parents.

When you need to request a schedule change, you're going to want your ex to be cooperative. At the same time, you don't want to be taken advantage of if he or she constantly presumes visits can be rescheduled. Set firm boundaries with one another when it comes to making adjustments to the child visitation schedule.

Minimize Schedule Changes

Write the schedule down. Your parenting time routine should be something you both agree with and can maintain over time. This doesn't mean that there will never be changes, of course. But you don't want to do something completely different each week. Your kids have a right to know when they can expect to see their parents, and you should know when your children will be with you. Sticking to a consistent schedule can make the transition between your home and your ex's home easier for your children.

Talk Proactively

The following guidelines provide an example of the language you can use to set appropriate boundaries while still being supportive of your ex's relationship with your child.

These guidelines should be added to your written parenting plan or communicated in writing:

  • I will contact you at least 24 hours before our scheduled parent-child visitation in the event that I need to reschedule.
  • I respectfully ask that you do the same, should you need to reschedule your parenting time.
  • I will reschedule only for a true emergency or a mandatory work-related conflict.
  • After communicating with you about the change, I will tell our child myself about my need to reschedule our visit.
  • Maintaining a regular parent-child visitation schedule is important to me, and I will not abuse it by rescheduling for frivolous reasons.

Support the Family

Consider creating a set of guidelines you can both support. You may find, too, that expressing what you feel committed to -- by beginning sentences with "I" -- diffuses tension with your ex. In addition, make sure you stick to the rules, which means communicating with your ex in a timely manner when you need to adjust the parent-child visitation schedule for any reason.

Co-parenting can be a positive experience if you both focus on the best interests of your children rather than your personal grievances. Supporting each other as you raise the children you share strengthens the family unit and provides a positive environment for your children to grow in, helping them feel secure in their family despite the parental split.