First things first: Do you have an agreement in writing and filed with the Family Court in your county? If you don't, that's the first place to start. Without an agreement in writing and filed with the courts, most of the options listed below will not help you. Creating an agreement and filing it with the court is for everyone's protection.
If you have an agreement, and your ex is violating it, here are five options you have. These options will increase in severity and, despite potentially wanting immediately to go to Option five because of how angry you are, my recommendation is to start at the top and work your way down.
1. Make an emotional plea. There is nothing worse than seeing your child with his backpack on waiting at the window for Dad to show up only for Dad to never show. When Mom calls her daughter after promising a picnic at the park to tell her she isn't coming, your heart is broken just as much as your daughter's is. Explain this in an email to your ex. Tell them that your child was heartbroken and that you hope it doesn't happen again. Ask them to help you come up with a solution. (Warning: I am not advocating for firing off an angry message to tell your ex what a horrible parent they are. I am only asking for you to stick to the facts and tell them your child was upset and you would like your ex's help in coming up with a solution to prevent it from happening again.)
2. Ask if you need to change the custody agreement. If this is happening all the time, it's happening for one of two reasons. It's either happening because ex has no ability to stick to a schedule that's written or he/she is unable to stick to the schedule for some reason. If it's the latter, ask your ex what's going on and work to change the schedule. Perhaps it's a change in work schedule, maybe it's due to other children. Whatever it is, there's no reason you can't work it out if you're both willing to be flexible for the sake of your children.
3. Written documentation. When you are dealing with a serial violator, document, document, document. If you're using a communication tool like Our Family Wizard or Coparently, there are ways to easily document in there. If you're not, a text or an email documenting the miss will work. The point is to get the documentation in writing if things don't change.
4. Request mediation. Before filing for a court order, a lot of times things can be solved in mediation. Bring your documentation with you and have a goal in mind. It isn't realistic to ask the mediator to help you ensure your ex is there 100% of the time because they've proven that they can't be, but it is realistic to ask that your ex call at least an hour before he/she is scheduled to have placement time to cancel. It is realistic to ask for a schedule review, in writing, once/week. If your ex finds something he/she cannot do, then you know about it ahead of time and can avoid disappointing your child last minute. Mediation is also a great opportunity to review the placement times and make sure they still work. In many states, you can make changes, put them in writing and file with the court without having to see a court room.
5. File for Contempt. If you have tried everything else and your ex is still not abiding by the placement order, it's time to take him/her to court for contempt. During this hearing, it will be up to you to prove the contempt using documentation. It will also be up to you to show everything else you've done to help your ex follow the schedule. Then, when the judge finds him/her in contempt, you can request less placement time so your child isn't disappointed every Wednesday when Mom or Dad is supposed to pick them up.
I know these are a lot of steps to go through and that a lot of people want to file for contempt immediately, but when parents are in court, it negatively affects the children despite the parent's best efforts in keeping them out of it. Kids know when they're parents are stressed and court causes stress. If you can avoid court and work with your ex, then I always recommend that. Stick to the facts in documentation and keep your emotion out of it. If your child is upset, tell them, factually, that your child was upset and that you want to work with them to avoid it in the future.
This situation can be fixed. If you're unsure of where to go next, after trying these, feel free to contact me or another professional to help you. See my biography for more information about where to go.
photo credit: Just a Smile via photopin (license)