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Wife's Ex Wants to Renew Relationship with Child

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: We recently wrote you in regards to our family merger and appreciate your fast and insightful response. Debbie and I have another question for you in regard to her six-year-old daughter Stephanie. Stephanie and my daughter Hillary are both six years old and share a bedroom in our home. They seem to have a very strong bond between them and spend countless hours with each other and seem ,at this point ,to enjoy it. The other children, Heather (16) and Andy (11), both seem to accept this with open arms. That is the base of our current situation.

Now, let us set the stage for the big question. Debbie and her ex have been divorced five + years; for the last two years, her ex has not been consistent with keeping an active role as a father in Stephanie's life. He has a son from another relationship which took precedence over him seeing Stephanie. He seldom kept his visitations, until a point where he dropped them all together. No phone calls or showing of interest in Stephanie's health or education to the point where he stopped paying child support for the past two years.

Debbie's ex moved away six months ago after splitting up with his current relationship and dropped Stephanie's belongings off as he left the area. He said he would call as soon as he got there and it took six months before he contacted Debbie. Ex claims he's sorry and he screwed up and his ex-girlfriend controlled the situation at his home. The girlfriend had told Debbie that ex didn't treat Stephanie with any loving feelings and had basically a cold demeanor during Stephanie's visitations. Who do you believe? The ex or the ex's ex? Ex claims he wants to become a responsible part of Stephanie's life. He lives in the upper peninsula of Michigan with family (his sister) and we live in the S.E. lower Michigan. Our worries are:

  1. Ex is being pressured by his sister to make this contact and not his own desire.
  2. Ex will make this a short term stay and hurt Stephanie.
  3. Stephanie's happy and stable life will be rippled by missing a father who isn't consistent.
  4. Should Ex be given an immediate chance to talk and see Stephanie who has only seen and talked to him once in the past nine months?
  5. Should we at first allow supervised visitations and phone calls?
  6. He has sent a letter today. Should Stephanie be given the letter before the Friend of the Court is given a chance to evaluate the new situation?

We are concerned for Stephanie's well-being and have her best interests at heart. Please advise. Thank you in advance.

A: This is indeed a delicate situation. I am so pleased that your blended family is working out and that Stephanie and Hilary have become fast friends. From what you have said, I can only conclude that Stephanie's dad has been a destructive force in her life. He has confused her, neglected her, and abandoned her for long lengths of time. I do not accept his blaming his former girlfriend as an adequate excuse for his continually neglecting Stephanie.

I hope your wife and you can gain sole custody of Stephanie as this would seem to be the most secure, loving environment for her to remain in. You mention letting the Friend of the Court evaluate the new situation before you give Stephanie her dad's recent letter. I strongly suggest you not only do not give Stephanie that letter and put her on an emotional rollercoaster again, I also recommend that you attempt to have the court prevent him from having any contact with her at present.

As much as I always want to grant people the opportunity to redeem themselves and as strongly as I feel kids need as many loving adults in their lives as they can get, I bet this man will continue to hurt Stephanie emotionally. He should be prevented from hurting her further; he certainly should not be granted unsupervised phone calls or visits. You and your wife have got to decide how much effort, money, etc., you want to put into keeping Stephanie free from her dad's proven harmful influence. I wish you folks courage and strength; you already have the love and care on your side.

Good luck.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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