It’s one thing to create a parenting plan when divorcing spouses live within driving distance of each other, but what happens when one parent must, for whatever reason, move far away?
It happens more often than we like to think. Sometimes it’s a job that requires a parent to move, other times a divorced parent may need to move closer to their own family members who can offer assistance and support. Whatever the reason, long distance parenting results in many new challenges, above and beyond those that come with divorce.
If you find yourself in this situation and you are the parent with majority time-sharing, you will have to go to court and get permission to relocate and to modify the existing parenting agreement. time-sharing, you will have to go to court and get permission to relocate and to modify the existing parenting agreement. Depending on the reason for your move, the court may or may not be sympathetic. If the court approves, a long-distance parenting plan will be put into place that outlines how you will co-parent.
If you are the parent who doesn’t have majority time-sharing, you should have a modified parenting plan before you move. It may be possible to reach an agreement with the other parent, or you may have to go to court. Either way, you will want to submit your new parenting plan to the judge for approval, so that it is enforceable.
Like any parenting plan, it will take some negotiating. And, depending on your relationship with your ex, this can go smoothly, or it can become another battleground. It’s important to always keep in mind the best interest of your children when drafting the plan; this is not the time to alienate your child from your ex.
First things first, you might want to sit down separately and come up with your own list of must-haves and use them as a starting point. Although it can be difficult, try to put your emotions on hold and maintain a logical approach. For example, while you really might want to have your child with you for his or her birthday, it may fall on a school day, so having them travel a long distance for one or two days and miss school simply may not make sense.
If you can’t come to an agreement, you may require the assistance of a mediator. He or she can help you work through some of the roadblocks.
Depending on your situation, there are going to be a number of questions that will need to be answered including:
- How often will the child visit the non-custodial parent?
- How will holidays/summer be handled?
- Who arranges and pays for the child’s transportation to and from the non-custodial parent?
- How will the non-custodial parent communicate with the child? Will a schedule be implemented? (i.e. non-custodial parent will call the child at 8 p.m. each weekday evening and at 9 a.m. on weekends.)
- Who initiates the contact?
- What about texts, Facetime, Skyping? Can you agree on a schedule?
- What happens if a parent can’t communicate with the child at the scheduled time?
- Will communication between the child and parent be monitored or will the child be allowed to speak freely with the other parent?
- How will you share information about what is taking place in your child’s life? (i.e. grades, illnesses, friendships, extracurricular activities, etc.)
- How will you resolve any disputes that do come up?
- Who provides clothing, toys, etc. when the child visits the non-custodial parent?
- What happens if make-up time is required? For example, a non-custodial parent is unable to exercise their parenting time due to an illness or work schedule.
These are just some things that you will need to work out. In any long-distance parenting situation, one parent is going to become the full-time parent, and this can be difficult. You may get caught up in the day-to-day struggles of being a single, full-time parent and forget to keep your ex informed and involved. On the other hand, if you are the parent who does not have custody, you may forget to make that daily phone call or text to your child that keeps you in the know.
Communication is of the utmost importance. Despite your own disagreements with each other, you must work together to maintain a good relationship with your child. With some planning and cooperation long-distance parenting can work effectively for everyone involved.
Lori Barkus is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil and Family Law mediator and guardian ad litem. She handles matters relating to divorce, custody, child support, paternity, collaborative divorce, adoption, parental rights, and family law and civil mediation.
Ms. Barkus is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.
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