Ex Watchers: When Co-Parenting Becomes A Spy Game
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August 11, 2017


Do you ever wonder what your kids are doing and if they’re alright when spending time with your ex?

Of course you do! If not for simple human curiosity to know the activities of our beloved children, we can’t help but wonder how our children occupy their time when away from us, if they’re happy, and if everything is “okay.” You wouldn’t be a good parent if you didn’t ever wonder about such things!

Do you ever miss your child when they’re away from you or fear that they might be homesick for you?

Certainly you miss them, and you want nothing more than for them to be comfortable, safe, and content! Time away from our kids is one of the most difficult transitions for parents, and children, of the divorce process! For as long as you can remember, you were able to be with your children every moment of each day, then suddenly their time is divided between parents.

How far have you considered going to ensure their safety, check-in on their emotional state, or to verify their whereabouts?

Any parenting plan approved by the court includes provisions for visitation time between parents and other communication that may take place between visits.

For instance, my plan states that my children are allowed daily contact with me by phone for a reasonable amount of time without interference from their father. Essentially, I can call them or they may privately call me every day while with their dad (no speaker phone or eaves dropping from my ex).

A phone call of “reasonable” length is debatable; but, a reasonable person would limit the length of the conversation so as not to interfere with the child’s designated time with the other parent, and that parent should exercise patience and allow at least a few good moments to exchange “I love you’s” and other information. Ideally, the parents will be courteous about not calling during meal time, at bed time, or be willing to call back at a more convenient time (or offer a better time to call). Simple as that!

Surprisingly, many parents are upping the ante during visitation to include actual surveillance. That’s right, moms and dads are hiding recording and tracking devices in toys and apparel, using phones to monitor activity, and recording phone conversations!

One mother admitted that she has a GPS tracker in her son’s phone and watches it continually while he is with his father so that she can determine how late he is staying up, who he spends time with, and to pinpoint his location so that she can drive by places he spends his time. She is not monitoring her child so much as she is monitoring his father and her ex's parenting.

Another mom revealed that she discovered a tracking device inside of a toy that accompanied her child home from her dad’s. She joked that she removed the device and attached it to her dog’s collar. The next time the toddler returned, she was wearing a watch with a GPS device. Mom’s solution to this attempt at surveillance was to allow the child to swim with the watch on! She explained that no explanation was given as to why the child was “bugged” in this way, and she has given her ex no reason to be concerned for the welfare of their daughter.

A divorced dad shared with me that he has an app on his phone that he has set to record every conversation with his ex. He explained that he has done so because she often changes her mind and denies ever having agreed to various child-related decisions. She is not aware that she or the children are recorded when they speak.

So, where’s the line between curiosity and natural parental concern, and inappropriately stalking the activities in someone else’s home?

One thing all of the above scenarios have in common is that none of the parents who are actively tracing the actions of their ex have fears of their ex running away with the child, nor do any have evidence of abuse or neglect. These are all cases of co-parenting exes, just like you or me, where one ex or the other has decided to take monitoring of the child to the next level. Perhaps, if there was a genuine fear of one parent leaving the state (or the country!) with the child, or of abuse, the intrusion of privacy might not be so shocking.

We might wonder how our child is spending the evening or even asking him what he did at dad’s over the weekend (in a non-interrogative fashion), then there’s actually watching or listening to what is happening in someone else’s home, without their knowledge or permission.

A few things to consider if you are thinking about covert surveillance of your ex’s home:

1. What is your core reason for “watching?” Do you just miss your child, or do you have a legitimate reason to fear for your child’s wellbeing?

Missing your child is completely normal; however, the pain of separation does dwindle with time.

If you are in fear for your child’s safety, you need to address your documented reasons with the proper authorities! Don’t try to take the law into your own hands, instead start laying the groundwork for your concerns to be heard in court or handled by the police and child protective services.

2. Are you sure what you’re doing is legal? Check with the laws of your area pertaining to recording and monitoring, especially if all parties do not have notice they may be under surveillance. You don’t want to end up in jail or the front page of your local news for DIY ex-tracking!

3.  Is there a part of you that has not been able to let go and release either anger or a sense of control over your ex? Again, this comes down to your motivations and what you hope to achieve from your actions.

4. If a judge has awarded custody and visitation to both parents, then no one has the right to interfere. It may be hard to trust your ex; but, they have the right to parent their way in their home. We will not always agree with each other’s parenting styles; but, unless a judge orders a change to the parenting plan, we are court-ordered to respect the plan. You also don’t want to chance losing or reducing your own parental rights as a result of actions that may be interpreted as illegal or interfering with court orders.

5. Have you considered having an open and honest conversation with your co-parent about your concerns? Believe it or not, your ex misses the kids when they're with you, but do you want them spying on you? Why not try to start a dialog about the differences between your homes or concerns you have, and at least give it a shot to solve these problems openly?

If you must spy, be fully aware of the potential consequences and your reasons for doing so. If caught, you will not only likely anger your ex and escalate any co-parenting conflict you already have, but also risk legal sanction and your stake in your children’s lives.



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