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What do I do when I show up to pick up my child from the mother for my visitation and my child isn’t there?

Don’t get emotional.

First, there is no need to get emotional. Missing a scheduled visitation can be very frustrating, especially given the inconvenience of travelling to the pickup location and waiting. Set aside your need to react emotionally and focus on what you need to do. Use a visitation procedure or checklist ahead of time so you don’t even have to think about anything. Follow your procedure every time whether something goes wrong or not.

Remember, possession schedules can be confusing! She could be mistaken about who is supposed to have the child or you could have misread something that was written in a confusing way. Sometimes an order on one page changes something in the possession schedule five pages away.

Ask if you are not sure.

Some of my old clients call me with questions about what they are supposed to do and I always try to take those calls because I don’t want them getting into trouble either. Don’t feel bad if you make a mistake, and try to be understanding when the other parent does. That doesn’t mean give up your time, you should still ask for make-up time if you are sure you are right.

Have a plan.

Visitation Checklist:

  •  Control your emotions.
  •  Keep a visitation diary.
  •  Have a copy of your order with you.
  •  Write down the exact time you arrived to pick up your children and how long you waited.
  •  If the child isn’t there or no one answers your knock, take a picture at the exchange time.
  •  Wait at least 20 minutes.
  •  While you are waiting, try to solve your problem and re-read your order to make sure it is your time.
  •  If you don’t get visitation, try to reschedule.

You should always keep a visitation diary. It should be a separate calendar, notebook, or planning book that is only used to document visitation. When you arrive at the location designated for the exchange at the designated time, write down the exact time you arrived and how long you waited. See this Sample Visitation Procedure.

Always go to the location for the exchange to pick up your children, even if the other parent tells you that you won’t be getting visitation unless you agreed to reschedule. If your child is not there, take a selfie at the time the exchange is ordered and wait at least twenty minutes. During that time you can attempt to call or text the mother to find out what is going on. You should also re-read your order to make sure it really is your time. Make a note in your diary of what you did to solve the problem. Make sure your photo is backed up to the cloud with the embedded time and location data.


If you do not get your scheduled visitation, try to ascertain why in writing either through text or email messages depending on how you normally communicate. Script your communications ahead of time as much as possible so that you don’t have to think about it and you don’t put emotions into your messages that could get you into trouble. You should also attempt to schedule an extra visitation period to make up for the time that you missed. Again, note in your diary what you did to try and solve the problem.

Whether or not you should attempt legal action against the mother after missing a single visit depends on the specific facts of your case, the evidence you have, the jurisdiction where you live, and your specific judge. Only a local attorney can properly advise you of your options. See Child Custody Enforcement Mistakes.

Good luck!