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If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Survival of the Strongest: Visitation

Well, well. The noncustodial adult children must be out in droves this Thanksgiving. Here I was thinking it was a quiet year, and I have THREE requests for information on noncustodial visitation during the holidays.

Always remember: I am NOT an attorney. I'm just another grandparent. If you need a lawyer, get the best one you can afford, and interview before you need one, to make sure you have the right fit. 

Let's start with manipulation techniques. If your noncustodial adult child shows up at your front door unexpectedly on a holiday, you are under NO, repeat NO obligation to allow him or her to enter your home. This is especially true if he or she shows up drunk, stoned or seems out to cause harm. If he or she shows up unexpected with another person or persons, a camera, recording equipment, etc., you are being set up. If you don't want him or her there, tell him or her politely to leave, close and lock the door. If he or she doesn't leave, call the police. Waste no further time on the situation. 

When the police come, show them a copy of your court order and anything else to prove to you have custody of the children (WIC coupons, DHS cards, insurance cards, grandkids' report cards, kids' doctor's records with your name, etc.). If you or one of the grandchildren was harmed in any way, insist on filing charges, especially if weapons or weapon substitutes (tire iron, sock of change, etc.) were drawn. You can't be a wimp at this point. The holiday has already been spoiled.

Don't scream unless you are being harmed and then wail as loud as you can. Call all the attention possible to yourself at the first sign of harm. Otherwise, keep your voice as calm as possible. SEND THE GRANDCHILDREN OUT OF THE ROOM, the farther away from the situation the better. It's no time to play in the back yard.  Upstairs, the basement, wherever is out of range of the situation is best. 
A variation on this drama is the Old Friend Bearing Gifts. He or she will come to your door, telling you some sad tale of your noncustodial adult child, who asked the friend to bring the kids a little gift. That's the gift in the paper bag. It could be anything from snack food to toys. The Old Friend promised to deliver it to the children in person, as your adult child has told the Old Friend that you will not give the kids the gift.

You are being set up. DON'T LET THE FRIEND COME IN. Thank him, tell her she can leave it outside on the doorstep if she wishes, or your adult child can always mail the package return receipt requested. If Old Friend insists, pushes on the door, etc., close the door and CALL THE POLICE. Again, BEFORE you open the door, send the grandkids to the farthest part of the house.

The kids are going to be wound up from this. They will perhaps caper and take advantage. They might also be quiet, sulk or even not want to talk about it. Tend to them first. 

If you have court-ordered visitation, start preparation early. If at all possible, back in the planning stages, please strongly suggest to your attorney that visitation take place in a neutral place, and that the court order supervision. If there is proof that Junior or Lulabelle abandoned or neglected the children, or if there is proof of drug use or alcohol abuse, it's not that much of a stretch to request supervised visitation. If there's a criminal record, you certainly don't want Junior or Lulabelle in your house, at least not now. 

A court-ordered supervisor is somebody the court appoints to go along on the visit. In some states, the noncustodial parent pays for a professional supervisor from a list at the courthouse; in others, it's part of the law enforcement system; still others, some relative or neutral friend volunteers. A paid professional is best. When your adult child has to pay for this, visits taper off quickly. Supervision isn't cheap when it isn't low income, often costing upwards of $25 a half hour. When low income and sliding scale services are used, there is usually a waiting list. Low income and sliding scale visitation is usually limited to an hour to two hours.

If this is an overnight visit, it's still a good idea to have the handoff and pickup in neutral territory. Why do you think the local malls and fast food places team with kids on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons? Some counties offer neutral exchange points without having to go to fast food places or malls. Too many don't.

Also on overnight visits, inventory what the kids will take with them before they leave. The fastest way is to whip out your cell phone and snap photos. When you have a free minute, email the pics to your addy. But do record what they take with them, on paper as a list, in a logbook with the date and time of transfer: Clothes, toys, even the baggage, cell phones if they have them.

Speaking of cell phones, it's not a bad idea that at least one of the kids has one. It doesn't have to be fancy, and it doesn't have to have Internet capability. They don't need to wave it for all to see, but you never know. 

Take somebody with you to the drop-off. Sometimes, local grandparents groups offer the services of their members to switch off with each other. Two can play at the witness game, and that's why you need that spare person, as a witness. It's actually better, if you are married or have a significant other, that ONE of you and an outside person perform drop-off and pickup. If your spouse or significant other is related to the grandkids, one of you can do drop-off with another person, and one of you can do pickup. Grandma and Grandpa together might make up a story. Grandma with Aunt Irma on drop-off, and Grandpa with Mr. Jones from the grandparents' group on pickup- much more believable.

If your noncustodial child shows up sober to take the kids, note the date and time, either on your cell as a memo or in a logbook. Note who came with you, where you performed the hand-off, who was with your adult child, and if possible the make, model and license tag number on the car. If it's a holiday, how about a photo at Junior's car, Grandma or Grandpa? Now you have a photo of the car.

Your adult child is drunk or stoned? Check with your witness to be sure you're not imagining this. Make it clear to the children and your adult child that you're sorry, this won't do, and IMMEDIATELY load up the kids and take off.  If your adult child pitches a hissy in public, or tries to take the children, CALL THE POLICE or have your witness call the police. Let them sort it out. You are within your rights as your grandchildren's custodian to insist your adult child be sober when driving your grandchildren. Don't go right home if your adult child knows where you live, unless you have an order of protection or some such.

This may or may not cause more paperwork for you later on. If you're fortunate, your adult child will just write it off. There may be child services at your door, who were told you simply refused to give the adult child the grandchildren. Again, you have a witness (as well as everybody in the public, neutral place). But to be sure, trouble or no, send your adult child a letter (not an email, a letter), return receipt requested. Be brief and businesslike in the letter. "Dear Lulabelle, I could not let you take the kids on December 24th, 2011, as Mrs. Jones and I observed you were weaving when walking and smelled of alcohol. The staff at the Hungry Tummy noticed this as well. I have informed my attorney of this. I love you, but my first duty is to make sure Jimmy, Janie and Johnny are safe when you drive. Mom." Bring up NOTHING from the past. No name calling! Stick to the facts at hand, and be sure you have a copy of the letter. DO inform your attorney as soon as possible.

If your adult child doesn't show up within a reasonable time frame to pick up the kids, take them home. Some courts will set a time limit for pickup, and some will not. But it's a safe bet that if Lulabelle hasn't called you after 30 minutes, she's not coming to get the kids. Take them home, deal with their disappointment, and send a letter simply stating the facts. "Dear Lulabelle, You did not arrive to pick up Janie, Jimmy and Johnny on Friday, November 25, 2011, at 5:00 PM per the visitation agreement. I waited with Emily Johnston until 5:35 PM for you to arrive. I then took the children home, having received no phone call from you. I tried to call you three times, and had no answer from you. Please check your court documents for your next visitation date and time." OR "Please contact my attorney to see about future visitation."

If your adult child doesn't return the children within FIFTEEN MINUTES of the time set by the court order or as agreed upon, call the police. If you get some rock-head law enforcement officer, who says, "Oh, you're the grandparent" remind them that you are the COURT APPOINTED GUARDIAN. Call your attorney, leave a message if you must, but make it clear you need help ASAP. Record everything. Call your adult child, every five minutes, asking as calmly as you can when the children will be returned, that you are waiting at the place you said you would be and expect his or her call ASAP. Hopefully, you will get the children back that evening. Your attorney will advise you what to do next.

Unless you have seen marked improvement in your adult child (see this story), it's not fair to set up a family holiday in your home as if things were back to normal. It's not fair to the grandchildren, and it's not fair to you and your extended family. Don't make promises you can't keep to the kids. Count the blessings you have, stay safe and have a wonderful time! 

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