Me and my wife have separated and are going through a divorce, we have two boys, 6 and 2, currently I only get to see the eldest. He stays with me from Friday evening until Sunday evening. I usually pick him up at 18:00, I live about 90 mins to 2 hours away depending on traffic and there is a court order that means I have to take him back by 18:00 on the Sunday. This contact is greatly reduced from what was previously happening a couple of months ago where I would pick him up after school on Thursday and then take him back to school on Monday morning.

The problem is that he gets increasingly anxious throughout Sunday leading up to when we have to leave to take him back to his mother and when it is time to leave he is very upset, distressed and doesn't want to go.

He hides under the bed or under chairs, he hides his shoes and he cries and begs to stay. I hate seeing him affected like this and will do anything to try to mitigate the distress he seems to be in but I don't know what to do. I also want to make it clear so that he understands that he doesn't have to go because I want him to leave. That I wold love him to stay as long as he wants to and there are forces outside of my control that are putting us in this situation.

I have already tried taking him out for the day before leaving so that we leave from where it is we have been instead of from home. This didn't help.

Also I have considered that it might just be the situation and tension of the handover when I take him back that he is trying to avoid but this seems unlikely as I do not engage in any conversation or conflict of any type when picking him up and he does not seem to be upset at all when I collect him. If fact he always seems very happy to be coming with me and often waits by the door for me, the only times he has been upset when I have picked him up have been when I have been later than usual due to traffic and he has been scared that I wasn't coming.

I cannot expect any help or cooperation from his mother in dealing with this or any flexibility over the time I have to return him.

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    My heart goes out to you. If your wife will not help her son, please start documenting dates/times/reactions to any and all events. Anecdotal notes if kept religiously, do show judges that you are trying.I would not share this note taking with your son or wife. Does your son say anything about how he feels about leaving his mother? It might be similar -- change is really difficult for a child that age. He should not be making choices about parenting or who he is with at his age. I'd suggest gently talking to him -- no judgement. It is okay if he loves and wants his mom, too. That's the goal.
    – WRX
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 11:59
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    Through personal experience I can say that this will take time. It's going to be hard all round and you have to try your best to make sure sides aren't picked. My step-son would scream the house down after his dad dropped him off. He would cry for him for at least half an hour after his dad had gone and nothing we did helped. Really what did it was structure. Making sure he knew he would see his dad when he was meant too and that's all we could do.
    – Bugs
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 13:41
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    I'd like to recommend the book: Never Split the Difference, which is a negotiating book. Using some of the techniques you can help him and you identify feelings that are leading to irrational behavior.
    – Pete B.
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 14:43
  • @WRX "He should not be making choices about parenting or who he is with at his age." Why not? Couldn't this whole situation be resolved if he got to do just that and neither parent could dictate who he spends his time with? Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 2:29

4 Answers 4


First, I think you have to understand what causes this distress. It feels "normal" to me that a 6yo prefers to stay at his Dad's place during a weekend than his Mom's place during weekdays, and this may have nothing to do with Mom and Dad. Leaving you may be harder than leaving his Mom because:

  • he spents time with you only on weekends, and (unfortunately) weekends are 2 days-long while there are five weekdays a week. Seems obvious but still...
  • activities during weekends are often more enjoyable; no homework and time to play outside or with videogames, etc...
  • Going back to his mother's also means going back to school the day after. A lot of children can be anxious on sunday evenings. Did you notice any change during holidays? Maybe it was easier?

As said in a comment, this can take time for him to accept the new situation, and I recommend being very careful with the vocabulary and posture. Tell him you love him but he cannot stay, but do not promise something you cannot do, and do not blackmail him with something like

If you don't go gently to you Mom's, you may not see me next weekend.

About relation ship with your ex-wife, you wrote:

I cannot expect any help or cooperation from his mother in dealing with this or any flexibility over the time I have to return him.

Divorce may be really hard to manage, but you may still let her know what is going on. Be careful to not do it in front of your child, if possible.

Last but not least, children are like sponges. The more you will anticipate the crisis the more he will feel it and the worst the crisis will be. Do not hesitate to talk to him about this, children may be smarter than we think they are.

Anyway, good luck with this situation, and I hope it will get better very soon.

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    I think spending less time with me and it being on the weekend may play a role, however he always objected returning to his mother when he was spending 4 nights a week with me and only 3 with her. Although the objection has become more extreme now. Communication with my wife about anything is impossible. I tried for 18 months to act in good faith and show trust, it was used against me every time to weaken my position, She has a new boyfriend and is pregnant already, she has an agenda, that is all she is interested in and unfortunately it doesn't involve doing what is best for our children. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 15:17
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    @user1450877 Document everything. If you are trying to engage her to help your son and she refuses, document it (dates, times, reactions, what you wanted to talk about, everything you can think of). Document your son's reactions to things. When he opens up about something (like why he doesn't want to go back to mom's place), document it. Then the next time you go to court over custody, visitation, whatever, you can pull this out and show how you are trying and how she isn't doing what is best for your son. (I hate to make this a you vs. her thing, but sometimes that's just what it is.)
    – Becuzz
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 15:56
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    To add to @Becuzz: sometimes the you vs. her is caused by her. Perhaps the son has attention when he is with you and at home he has a brother + a pregnant mom + a whole system where he doesn't feel welcome. Without having access to her, you can only discover that, very slowly, as you talk to him, and might consider that he will try to say things that can lead you to think that everything is bad, just because he wants to manipulate you to be with you. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 20:12
  • She has a new boyfriend. As a kid, that would have been enough for me to not want to go home. But then again, she needs to get on with her life. She needs to put her own needs first. The same with you, you need to move on with your life, start dating, etc. And you need to create some consequences for your child for acting up before each handover. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 4:29
  • Add to this, weekdays present more opportunities for a parent to be the disciplinarian than weekends. So she may be the one putting him to sleep when he'd rather stay up, getting him ready for school when he'd rather stay in bed, making sure he does homework.. Resentment over all that may get transferred to her. Whereas you have more opportunities to be the fun parent, since you have him for the weekend.
    – learner101
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 11:55

Have you also considered that he may be giving you something he thinks you want? Do YOU talk about how much you're going to miss him once he goes? Keep bringing up the deadline to push activities along?

He's your kid. He loves you. and part of this may just be his way of telling you "Dad - I know you miss me when I'm gone, because you always talk about it, and I'm just showing you that I'd really, really love to stay because I don't want you to miss me and be sad."

Kids at that age can't express complex thoughts like that, and that where interpreting what their acting out comes from. I'm not saying this is the case as I have no clue about your interactions.

I'm just saying - also consider how you are presenting yourself and the weekend to him and consider what tone he is getting from you. And, maybe what you might do to distract him from not thinking about the deadline to go back - such as not mentioning it yourself.


I'd like to recommend the book: Never Split the Difference, which is a negotiating book. Using some of the techniques you can help him and you identify feelings that are leading to irrational behavior.

In the end its probably about a lack of control. If at all amicable with his mom, perhaps you can alter the time a little bit for his drop off. If you can't I would not be above changing the times on the clock in the car and the most visible one in the house (like on the oven or microwave).

Something like:

Hey Johnny, this weekend you have a choice about when you get to go back to Mommy's house. Do you want to be dropped off at 5:30 or 6:30?

Giving him some choice and power in a situation that he hates and that he is powerless can really help.

Later Edit: If you really have a good relationship with his mom, you can work this together. All three of you can get on the phone with him on Sunday the two parents can give the child options about the best time for exchange, and perhaps locations for the exchange. For example "mom can pick up at 5:30 at McDonalds and we can go and play on the play ground early, or she can come to Dad's house at 6pm. Which would you prefer?" This kind of thing is really the best option so the child knows he does not have to choose between mom and dad.


Obviously there's some bad energy in the other parental environment that is affecting your son.

Its usually easier to drop kids young off at school on Monday morning than it is to return them to the other parent on Sunday evening.

Why was the original contact reduced? Why dont you see the 2 year old?

Can you document all this, get a professional evaluation on your son and have the court order amended?

  • A lot has changed in the 6 years since I asked this question. My eldest son came to live with me in 2019. His mother couldn't wait to get rid of him in the end. She's recreated the same toxic relationship with him that she'd had with me. He's much happier as a result. He still sees his mother about once a month but he's indifferent about it. She still doesn't let me see the youngest, if I'm honest I suspect that he's not mine, she doesn't even ask for child support because she knows it would result in a paternity test. Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 13:38

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