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What can I do if my partner doesn't show up for access visits with our child?

Even though you may have a custody and access schedule, a parenting plan, a separation agreement, or court order that says when your partner will spend time with your child, they may not always show up.

This can be very upsetting for your child and very frustrating for you. But you can't force your partner to spend time with your child.

It's important not to speak negatively about your partner in front of your child. You also want to make sure your child knows that your partner loves them. Your child may think they did something wrong which is why your partner isn't spending time with them. Let them know that this isn't true.

Keep track of all the missed visits and make notes with as much detail as possible. For example, record the date, time, and details of each visit missed. If it keeps happening, you may be able to get the arrangements changed.

Child support is separate from access

The right to child support and access are two different issues. They are both rights of the child. A parent cannot be denied access to their child because they do not pay child support. And a parent who does not have access may still have to pay child support.

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Next Steps: 

1. Talk to your partner

You can try talking to your partner to find out why they aren't showing up for access visits with your child. You can talk to your partner on your own or with the help of a lawyer or mediator.

Explain that it's important to your child's development to know that they have two parents who they can count on. Also tell your partner what your child goes through when they don't show up.

Maybe there is a reason your partner isn't showing up as planned. For example, there could be a change in their work schedule or other activity that makes it difficult for them to pick up the child at certain times. If this is the case, maybe you can agree to a different schedule that works better for the family.

Or, maybe your partner isn't showing up for access visits because they haven't paid child support. Let them know that child support and access are two different issues. They are both rights of the child. Let them know they still have access even if haven't paid child support.

You may also want to think about speaking to someone your partner respects and trusts. This could be a family member, a friend, a colleague, or a religious advisor. Ask them to speak to your partner and explain the impact that missed visits have on your child.

If you and your partner agree to change your parenting plan or separation agreement, you can make a new agreement that deals with the changes to your situation.

If you agree to change a final court order, you can go to court and get a new order based on your agreement.

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2. Get professional help for your child

If your child is having a hard time coping with missed access visits, think about getting professional help. Your child may be more comfortable talking to someone who is trained to work with children whose parents have separated or divorced.

Watch for signs that your child is having a hard time coping. Some of them are changes in your child's:

  • appetite
  • sleeping
  • study habits or grades
  • attitude
  • ability to cope with their feelings of sadness or anger

Encourage your child to talk to you, your partner, or any other person they feel comfortable with. You and your child may want to talk to or get help from a:

  • family friend
  • sports team coach
  • teacher
  • school guidance counsellor
  • family doctor
  • religious leaders
  • social worker, therapist, or psychologist

Your child can also call a counsellor at Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. A counsellor is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long. It's free to call anywhere, anytime. They can also email questions to a counsellor through the Kids Help Phone website.

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3. Get help from a family law professional

If you and your partner cannot agree on following your agreement or court order, you can get help from a family law professional. These are neutral people who are trained to work with both of you to help you reach an agreement or make a decision for you.

Family law professionals can work in:

  • mediation
  • arbitration
  • mediation-arbitration
  • collaborative family law
  • parenting coordination

All of these processes are sometimes called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). They help solve your issues without going to court. Deciding which process is best for you depends on the facts of your situation and what you want. For example, a mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but an arbitrator does.

Your separation agreement or court order might even require that you first try a process like mediation to work through your issues before taking any further steps like going to court.

Some of the reasons to use ADR instead of going to court are:

  • You have more control over what happens to your case.
  • It can be faster and cheaper.
  • It can be less stressful.
  • It takes place in a private setting.

But, there are some situations where it may be better not to use ADR, such as:

  • There is a history of family violence, mental illness, or drug abuse.
  • You can't talk to your partner.
  • You can't work cooperatively with your partner.
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4. Go to court

If your partner constantly misses access visits with your child, and you have tried talking to them about it, with or without the help of a family law professional, you cannot force your partner to spend time with your child.

Think about whether you need to go to court to change your agreement or court order, or whether you can leave things as is.

You have to start a family court case if:

  • you don't have a court order
  • you have a parenting plan or separation agreement that you want to change

If you have a final court order and need to change it, you can bring a motion to change.

Going to court can be a complicated process and it can take a lot of time. It can be stressful and expensive, but it is sometimes necessary to decide your issues. This family law court process flowchart explains each step in a family law court case.

A judge looks at the best interests of the child test to make decisions about your child. The judge will also want to know:

  • how the access plan you have is not working
  • the impact missed access visits have on your child
  • your suggestions on what changes to access would work better for your child

You can talk to a lawyer who can help you understand what the law says about changing your agreement or court order and how they can help you through the process.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, some lawyers provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you pay them to help you with part of your case.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer at all, you may be able to find legal help in other places.

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Reviewed: 
September, 2015

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