As a single father, whether you are divorced or were never married to your child’s mother, you might sometimes feel like you are on the outside looking in. In Minnesota, we use the term “parenting time” rather than the old term “visitation” to describe the time an unmarried parent spends with their child. That’s because a parent should feel like an essential part of their child’s life, not like a visitor. Unfortunately, for too many dads, that’s exactly the way they do feel.
Some dads, simply put, don’t get enough time with their child to feel like they are really an important part of the child’s life. Others live at such a distance that parenting time necessarily takes place during chunks throughout the year, rather than on a regular basis. Still other dads are treated like an “outsider” by the other parent, with whom the child spends more time.
No matter what the reason, you need your child in your life, and more importantly, they need you. Let’s talk about how single dads can get more time with their kids, and what to do with the time they do have.
If you and your co-parent have a parenting plan or order for parenting time in place, you may think there is nothing you can do to get more time with your child short of a court order modifying the plan. That can be difficult to do, especially if your co-parent doesn’t agree to a modification. In that case, you would have to go back to court and show that modifying parenting time would be in your child’s best interests
If you don’t want to take your child’s other parent to court to press for more parenting time, what are your options? Well, there are a number of ways you can “sneak in” extra time with your child. That phrase is in quotes because we are not recommending that you literally sneak around and try to hide your efforts from your child’s other parents. But even without being awarded extra parenting time by a court, there are still little ways to work it in.
First and foremost, offer to take care of your child when your ex would otherwise be calling a babysitter or other family member to watch them. Some parents build a “right of first refusal” into their divorce settlement agreement or parenting time order, so that if child care is needed during one parent’s parenting time, the other parent gets the first shot at providing it if they are available. Even if you don’t have a right of first refusal built into your existing parenting plan or order, you can talk to your ex to see if they would be willing to agree to that arrangement on an informal basis. It’s a win-win: your child gets more time with both parents, parents get more time with the child and save money on sitters.
Aside from providing child care for your child when it’s not officially your “turn,” there are other ways to see them during the week. Many schools allow parents to come in and have lunch with a child. If your child is in high school, they probably won’t welcome this option, but elementary school age kids love it. Not only does it make them feel special, but mom or dad can score extra points for bringing in fast food! If you are able to schedule a monthly or even quarterly lunch date with your child, it will strengthen your relationship and will likely be something they remember for years.
In fact, school is a gateway to multiple avenues for involvement with your child. If you can, serve as class parent or chaperone on field trips. While these are not opportunities for you and your child to spend time with just each other, they still strengthen your relationship. You get to see your child among their friends and peers in their “natural habitat,” and they get to see you as someone who supports them and their education.
If you work during the school day, participating in school activities can be challenging. But it is worth it to trade the occasional shift or take a half a vacation day to be there for your child. If you want to chaperone a field trip, make sure your child’s other parent hasn’t already claimed a spot, of course.
(It’s worth noting that you won’t know about opportunities to participate in class activities unless you are receiving communications from the teacher or school. If you have the legal right to these, provide the school and teacher with your contact information so you can find out about these events.)
Other options for spending bonus time with your child are offering to coach one of their activities or be a team booster. Again, this shows your child you care about their interests and support them. Similarly, leading or helping with a scout troop or other activity, or even to transport your child to extracurricular activities, is a great way to see them. As most parents know, some of the best conversations with your kids take place when you’re sitting side by side in a car.
If none of these options work for you for reasons of time or distance, or you have older kids, take advantage of technology. Let them know they can text or FaceTime you any time they need to.
Of course, sometimes just working in more quality time with your kids is not enough. If there is a substantial change in circumstances that affects your child’s best interests, you may need to petition for additional parenting time, or possibly even a change in custody. We encourage you to contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation and your options.
And remember: if you ever do need to petition for a change in custody or parenting time, having demonstrated involvement in your child’s life in the ways discussed above will make your case, as well as your relationship, stronger.