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by Brette McWhorter Sember
Sphinx, 2002
Review by James E. de Jarnette, Ph.D. on Sep 5th 2003

The Visitation Handbook

In the Preface to The Visitation Handbook, Brette McWhorter Sember, an attorney at law, calls this book, "two books in one."  It is a flip book.  The custodial parent reads the side for them that is roughly half the book, and the non-custodial parent reads the side, upside down for the custodial parent i.e. by flipping over the book with a new cover, etc., as written for them.  This kitsch little maneuver is clever if you are a teenager, but not so clever for an adult. 

Much of the material presented in one side of the book is presented in the other side of the book.  This is tedious.  It is this reviewer's opinion that both custodial and non-custodial parent would benefit greatly from reading an integration of both sides of the book presented in a straightforward manner.  Each parent needs to be aware of what each other is really going through and the advice given to both parents.

In the How To Use This Book section the author states, "Read this book and pay careful attention to the chapters that speak to your immediate concerns."  This is a good admonition; however, as a custody evaluator who is asked by the court for evaluations when modification of child custody comes to the judges' attention, it is often the things that the parent doesn't think important that is at issue and in many cases is harming the "best interests of the child."

The book stresses in some parts and dances around the topic of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law as far as modifications to court ordered visitations.  Most courts, when they issue a specific order as far as visitation times, dates, vacation times, etc. want their order obeyed.  It is not up to the divorced parents to change the court order where it is more convenient for them.  In many courts here in California, special mediators (often child custody evaluators) are given limited judicial authority to modify orders as far as the housekeeping about set days for visitation or when modifications as far as vacation times, etc. are in question.  Court orders are never at the whim of the parties involved.

The Visitation Handbook does go into an area that usually comes up with divorced parents and their children.  In the section dealing with, WHEN YOUR CHILD DOES NOT WANT TO GO VISIT, the author puts forth a great deal of very pertinent information.  He says,

"Visitation is not optional for your child, just as it is not optional for you.  Spending time with one's parents is a lifelong commitment.  When your children are adults, they can decide for themselves if they wish to continue their relationships with their parents.  While they are children they do not have this choice.  You are the parent and you must make sure that your child follows the rules that have been created for your family.  Furthermore, you have been ordered by the court to allow visitation at scheduled times.  If you do not, you are violating a court order and can be held in contempt of court, which can mean jail time and fines, not to mention the fact that you could lose custody."

This quote is very unambiguous and applies to both the custodial and the non-custodial parent.  This very issue is the reason that so very many people are back in front of a judicial officer or the court's designated arbitrator.

The setting of rules is another very good section.  It talks directly about a problem that separated parents have with their children and each other.  This quote says it all, "As a parent, your job is to help your child obey and live with rules, no matter who has created them and whether they are right or wrong."  It is the parents' responsibility to make the judgment as to whether or not a rule is harmful for the child or not.  If the child is being harmed in your opinion, "The best way to handle this is to discuss it with him or her when your child is not present.  You also have to learn to step back and evaluate just how important this is…just because a child is unhappy about a rule does not mean it is wrong."

On the whole this is a very good book for both the custodial and non-custodial parent.  It presents, in a simple format, many of the issues that newly divorced parents will face with their child and with each other.  It is a condensed book.  Many libraries are full of books on child development, discipline, etc.  This book does give good references for further reading.  It is this reviewer's opinion that both parents should read both sides of the flip book and use the resource guide to get more in-depth information.   The resource guide is easily worth the cost of the book alone.


© 2003 James E. de Jarnette


James E. de Jarnette, Ph.D., Forensic Child Custody Evaluator