"Throughout this book, I felt Bruce had a secret window into my own life and private thoughts. Many private feelings I am currently dealing with were addressed and revealed in a manner that made me feel it is not only normal, but I am truly not alone in this. I was surprised that I cried while reading it and the comfort that the words brought me. I read tons of self-help books, among other types of books, and this book actually gives me hope and things to look forward to. My tears were from the fact that I am facing the words I read. I have been getting negative feedback from outside sources and these words reassured me not to listen, keep them out of your life and do what is right. The section on the other home/parent opened my eyes and freed me. I did not go into reading this book thinking it would help me on such a deep emotional level." ~Dorothy Justice, Vice Chair-Community Action Partnership

March 13, 2013

Coping with Visitation Through a Separation/ Divorce Agreement

My own observations, from experience and history, are parents cannot be a measurable difference in a child’s life when connecting only twice a month.

My adult children l-r: Cassie, Therese, Sammy, and Valerie

When divorce becomes reality, parents are faced with numerous unexpected challenges. Splitting apart a family into separate households tests our stamina--only to learn later the real ordeal begins.

One thing I hear more often with recently, adjusting, single dads is visitation rights every other weekend. As soon as I hear, "...visitation every two weeks…," I cringe. This will only create conflict in the hearts of men and their children.

My own observations, from experience and history, are parents cannot be a measurable difference in a child’s life when connecting only twice a month. In fact, you want shared custody as even and equal to your partner as possible. This will make a considerable difference in your lives together immediately. Having a father in the picture changes the outlook and life of a child. Children who have two participating parents and active father have fewer behavioral problems whether the parents are together or not.

Second, there is no room for flexibility. It sounds counter
productive though it's really the best practice in the long run. What I am referring to is with schedules after the agreement. Set the tone right away by executing parameters exactly as specified in the separation agreement, parenting-plan, or decree.

This period is already often very confusing for every one involved and, not surprisingly, it will be especially more difficult on children. Still, it’s always best to create structure in your home right away. Develop your schedule at home so that your time becomes a workable and predictable asset in your child's eyes.

Third, I would also suggest remaining within gender roles—we can never make up for the other parent, i.e. mothering the child if you are the dad. If our stance is weakened on gender roles, disciplining, being in charge, we further facilitate a disintegrating situation. Consider how this position would play out while still married- it doesn’t work.

Our children want to see us as the person they are familiar-- nothing less, nothing more. Help them feel safe by acting as natural as possible. Most importantly, be confident in everything you do with your little one. As expected, it can be tough adjusting to new co-parenting roles. Pull in your family and friends for additional, supporting, roles with your loved ones.

Fourth, I personally believe the more our children can see and feel consistency the better. Try and mitigate some of the more subtle issues up front by expressing and showing only the living arrangements change. Some things will be new. Work together as a team at home and beyond--provide opportunity for your children to shine through empowerment and age appropriate decision-making.

Fifth, plan time with your children in advance. Until your child becomes comfortable with new schedules and household status, share those plans in advance. During those times, steal the opportunity to understand your child’s world and what he/she is coping without asking. Work through your relationship with fun events that won’t require judgment or discipline—show them you are committed and vested in your new relationship by being a reliable and dependable resource in their lives.

Finally, learn to understand and become knowledgeable about Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Also known as PA, most are quick to jump to conclusions about the other co-parents role on this matter. Don’t do this! There are in fact two sides to this coin and hence the “syndrome” aspect of what could become a debilitating condition.

One side may be your co-parent is flagrant about manipulating your child against you. However the other side of this delicate matter is your co-parent may not be aware your child is picking up on some very emotional feelings regarding the marital split—your child may be acting out mainly because of their conflicted feelings.

For me personally, my youngest was only two at the time when her mom and I separated. Accepting my child physically from her mother’s arms was hard. My ex wasn’t handling the transitions very well. Chances are my little girl was instinctively picking up on her mom’s feelings. As a result I worked hard to support and provide reassurance to my little girl while she was in my care.

The perplexing part of this syndrome is typically the lack of understanding from both parties. Survival skills are employed—new co-parents don’t like to be alone, become overprotective, start sleeping with the child, or begin behavior that cites nonverbal cues to the child such as, “I’m completely dependent on you and please don’t leave me!”

Mothers may find it hard to digest one day she will lose her only boy to the father. It’s only natural that eventually boys will want to migrate to their dads once they start asserting themselves near middle school or even earlier. In this case, help the mom feel confident in understanding no one is taking the children away and they need their mother—You’re in it together for the long haul.

The other side of PAS, unfortunately, is more deliberate in nature when your co-parent just wants you gone or out of the equation. Don’t worry; you can still develop a course of action for your relationship with your children.

For more severe PAS, the alienated parent may be inclined to throw in the white towel and the child may grow up never really understanding the depth of the issue. I suggest hanging in there, as I did, since those concerns may die down after both parties adjust.

For me, my hidden message was a consistent, “I’m not going anywhere.” I followed the divorce decree always maintaining my kids as a priority. I didn’t concern myself with words or actions from the other camp. Further, I portrayed my new role as someone who only wanted to be in my kids’ lives—to provide my children a father who loves them.

PAS is a delicate issue which may take several turns and potentially against you if you are not careful! If after moving your schedules more evenly and allowing for a period of adjustment, there are still concerns-- here are 5 legal points that should be a larger consideration:

1) Hire a forensic psychologist and mental health professional to be able to identify that PAS is occurring. Most forensic evaluators such as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists have studied the disorder and are able to recognize it when we may not.

2) Keep a diary or journal of key events describing what happened and when. Document the alienation with evidence that is admissible in court. For example, always call and show up for pickups, even if you know the children won't be there. Then document you tried for when the alienator alleges you have no interest in the child.
3) Never openly talk about the legal case. Always take the high road and never talk badly about the other parent. Never show court orders or other sensitive documents. Shield the children from inappropriate conversations on the telephone.
4) Don’t violate court orders. Pay child support on time and prove you live within the letter of the law. Be truly decent and principled in the eyes of the children.
5) Hire a skilled family lawyer with PAS.

No matter how challenging it may seem or how conflicted your child, I personally guarantee he/she will eventually appreciate your efforts to stay in their life. Share patience with a court system that may potentially be untrained to understand PAS. More help can be found in my book, Parenting After Divorce- Rebuilding Your Life and Reaffirming the Relationships that Matterthis recently published manuscript provides the concepts, strategies, and philosophies to help not only support coping and rebuilding through conflict, but while sustaining a path that wins over your children.

Bruce Buccio resides in Colorado, USA, is a divorced single dad, court appointed child advocate, and expert supporting families professionally in parenting, family, relations, personal growth and life changes. Today, he writes primarily inspired by experiences raising his children, but also writes about inspiration, growth, and love.

Copyright © 2013 Bruce Buccio


  1. What a good article, full of useful info. especially the part about not trying to be the other gender, parent-wise.

  2. I agree that it's a good article. I have a 13 year old daughter who has completely shut me out of her life with her mother's blessing. it's now been 6 months with not one word.The pain is constant. once a wseek i email her and i check it every chance i get knowning that there will be no repsonse..

    is this common?

  3. Plenty may share your misery with the similar circumstances. My oldest went through something similar at age 15 and it was 19 until she came around. Regardless of what your daughter shows on the surface, she really does notice your attempts. Find new ways to get her attention. Even if you are unsuccessful now, one day she will appreciate you.