Minnesota's Family Law Blog

What To Do If Your Ex Doesn’t Show For A Parenting Time Exchange?

A concerned woman and her young son in a park, both looking pensive. The woman, in her mid-30s with medium-length brown hair and wearing jeans and a light blue shirt, stands with her child, a 5-year-old boy with blond hair in a red T-shirt and blue shorts. They are in a typical park setting with trees, a bench, and a playground in the background, under a clear blue sky

UPDATED: April 2024

Picture this scenario: It’s time for a parenting exchange, as per the Divorce Decree & Order, your ex is supposed to pick up the kids at exactly 6:00 PM. You’re punctual. you make a point to get there on time, in fact even a little early!  You get to the court-ordered location. Then, the minutes tick by—6:15, then 6:30—and there’s still no sign of your ex. You check your phone, no texts.  No missed calls.  The kids are getting restless in the back seat, their tears of frustration growing as they start to get tired, hungry and hot. What’s next?

 Suddenly, your phone rings. It’s your ex, casually mentioning they’re  “just too swamped to take the kids this weekend.” You can’t believe what you’re hearing then “Sorry, you understand though, right?” You most certainly do not understand, but this is the standard way it’s been for a few years now.  He or she doesn’t prioritize time with the kids. 

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common not just in Minnesota but across the country.  Dads and yes moms too, often will bail on seeing their kids when other things are more important or more fun or they are just “too tired.”  So, what can you do? The order say he has to take them! 

Well, I’ve got some bad news, a foolproof solution is a hard to find.  There is not a magical way to get him to see the kids I’m afraid.  But all is not lost! I’ve put together some practical tips that might just make these trying times a bit more bearable and if you’re lucky, get your to take their kids!

Set Expectations For Yourself

First, let’s set the expectation: if you’re someone who believes in following the law and upholding court orders and is very rule-oriented, you need to prepare for some inevitable stress. Why? The dirty little secret in Minnesota Family Law is that the Judge may not take the idea of violating a court order nearly as seriously as you do.  You’ll find a lot of second, third, and even fourth chances before some judges get upset enough to impose some sort of penalties or sanctions.

Now, you might be thinking, “Is Jason suggesting I ignore the court order?” Absolutely not—you need to follow the Judge’s order!  But it’s equally important to acknowledge that not everyone shares your respect for legal order and rules.  If your ex is like that, you probably know what I’m talking about!

 More frustrating still, enforcement of these orders often proves difficult. Sure, you can file for contempt of court—a lengthy and sometimes wasted effort I’m afraid. (Contempt of court is a motion where you are asking the Court to “hold them in contempt” until they follow a court order).  But, from what I’ve seen over my 24 years of doing this is that a lot of clients become increasingly frustrated when they realize that not every order from a judge is treated as a must-follow directive!  If your ex has a history of being difficult, chances are they haven’t changed and they will play fast and loose with the Court Order.

I think that understanding this dynamic, the interplay of the court’s order and your ex is really important.  If you can learn to expect this a bit, then you can manage your expectations and prepare for the possibility that they won’t show up, or show up late, and use tricks to get ahead of that frustration.

This acknowledgment doesn’t solve the issue at hand, but it arms you with a realistic outlook, which is the first step in dealing with the challenges of co-parenting with a less-than-cooperative ex. Through this lens, let’s explore some very specific strategies that can help you keep your cool and collected and keep the situation under control when the ideal exchange doesn’t go as planned.

Checklist to reduce headaches for no or late Shows!

  1. Model Good Behavior
  2. Keep Open Lines of Communication
  3. Set a reasonable waiting time..then leave.
  4. Finally, modify the order if you need to reduce exchanges.

Model Good Parenting Behavior

Ok. You understand the contempt system is a bit “lacking” in Minnesota but what can you do? Here is my advice. Model good behavior yourself.

Be sure you are on time (every time) if you aren’t you send a text right away telling them you are late and even (maybe) offering to do the driving this time! Don’t send snarky texts when you get a text from your ex saying they are late all that does is encourage them to not text you!

Also, follow the courts order TO THE LETTER. This is critical so that you cannot be accused of having what is called “Unclean Hands”. This is a legal doctrine that basically says if you are not following the law yourself, then why should the other side have to? So you follow the letter of the law and the order then what do you do?

What I often suggest is to give the other side one more chance to change their ways. This means when your ex calls and says they will be late for pickup. Instead of going off on him telling him what a jerk and bad dad he is, tell them “Ok, but just remember when I need to do the changing remember that I worked with you and let you change the order.” Then keep a record this and if he is a jerk in the future and doesn’t let you change your weekend, or time then that’s it! No more free passes.

Then you follow the order to the letter. If the order says exchange will be at 6:00 at the Mankato McDonalds and it’s 6:05 and he’s not there, leave. Once you’ve been reasonable for an extended period of time and your ex still ignores the order, make him or her follow it. One caveat, when I say leave…I am not saying your ex doesn’t get parenting time. No, just that if your ex wants parenting time he or she will have to drive to your house to pick up the kids.

Keep Open Lines Of Communication

It’s important to keep open lines of communication, to not block them on your phone for starters. Next, be responsive when they text or call, don’t avoid them as much as you may want to!

Set a reasonable waiting time..then leave

There isn’t a law that says you need to wait for hours and hours if your ex doesn’t show, instead, set a reaosnable period of time, communicate it to your ex and then leave.

What is a reasonable waiting time you might ask? It really is fact specific. I would say 5 minutes is way too short, but an hour is too long. But again, it depends on specific facts.

Finally, modify the order if you need to reduce exchanges

The final thing to do is be proactive; once he or she doesn’t show a number of times, say 5 or 6, it is time to consider changing the order. Why? For starters, it can seriously impact child support; if they are not seeing the kids and are not paying the full price, then that is an issue.

Final Parenting Time Tips

Be sure to keep a record of each time he or she is late. Keep it accurate and easy to read. (if you have a smart phone I highly recommend the program Evernote, it’s a free program that stores notes in the cloud) then if you a have to modify parenting time to try and correct the constant being late or refusing to pick up, then you have an easy to read, accurate document you can give your lawyer.

In closing, you’ll notice I didn’t talk about modifying parenting time as a punitive or punishing measure. I didn’t do so because that is a whole other topic to deal with that is coming next week!

Dive into mankatofamilylaw.com for a heap of savvy insights on Minnesota Family Law—it’s almost like finding a legal cheat sheet! Just remember, while the site’s packed with smart stuff, it’s not the same as personalized legal advice. And if you’re not in Minnesota, you’re out of luck—Mr. Kohlmeyer sticks to his home turf when it comes to lawyering. Got a local family law drama? Ring up 507-205-9736 to get Mr. Kohlmeyer in your corner.

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Comments 1
  1. Hi Jason, I am researching to help my brother with his custody case. He currently has shared custody of his 10 year old daughter with his ex-wife. His ex-wife is married to a cult leader (who is also our father- yes she divorced her husband to marry her father in law). As you can see, the case is very complicated. This week she sent an email saying she was stopping his parenting time (again), last time she made a unilateral decision to stop parenting time for a year until he could get his daughter back. Would you be willing to look at his case?

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