Divorced or separated parents may live far away from each other. One parent may also relocate a long distance away after a divorce. An appropriate long-distance parenting plan allows children and the distant parent to maintain regular contact. Creating a long-distance parenting plan requires careful planning and it must account for the unique situation of the family. This can be particularly difficult if visitation has been established after a divorce and must be renegotiated when one parent moves away.
The parenting plan must be as detailed as possible. Even if the parties get along initially, nobody knows how long that will last and how relationships can change. Flexibility is important, but a party must be able to rely on a formal parenting agreement. Verbal agreements may work initially, but they are subject to misunderstanding and may not be legally binding. For couples who get along well, a parenting plan remains an insurance policy of sorts. A parent may never need to rely on a formal parenting agreement. However, the agreement can help avoid confusion between the parties in the future.
A long-distance parenting plan establishes regular visitation between the children and the distant parent, often monthly. The plan allows for visitation in the child’s location, the distant parent’s location, a combination of both, or some other mutually agreed upon place. It is important to create a formal agreement. This provides the children with stability and avoids confusion. Reasonable flexibility is always important, of course, however, a regular plan avoids disruption in the children’s normal routine.
In some cases, regular monthly visits may not be practical. When the distance between the parents’ homes is significant, travel expense may not allow for regular travel between the two homes. In some circumstances, monthly visitation may also be too disruptive to the children’s lives. Long-distance parenting plans usually establish longer visitation during school breaks
Visitation During School Breaks
Regular contact may be difficult in some long-distance visitation situations. This can be made up for by extended visitation during holidays and other breaks from school.
Some plans will provide the non-residential parent with visitation for the majority of the summer break. A plan may also provide extended visitation time during breaks during the school year, such as winter break or spring break. The break periods for schools varies and the children’s school district calendar must be considered when planning long distance visitation.
Different families consider different holidays important and have different flexibility for the holidays. Important family holidays will be split between the parents. Even in cases of long-distance visitation, each parent should be able to spend at least one significant holiday with the children.
Longer holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day and Labor Day, may provide an opportunity for the distant parent to have time with the children.
In a long-distance parenting situation, arranging travel for the children will be a constant. The details of travel to see the other parent must be established in the long-distance parenting plan.
Travel By Car
Thorough long-distance parenting plans specify which parent provides transportation when traveling by car. Some plans require the non-residential parent do all of the driving. Other plans divide the driving responsibility between the parents. Often, the easiest plan calls for parents meeting at a mid-way point, such as a restaurant, gas station, or mall.
Travel expenses incurred by the parties must also be considered and may be included in the parenting plan.
Travel by Air
Long-distance visitation cases may require travel by air. Visitation plans must provide for adult supervision at both the departing and arriving airport. S Ideally, parenting plans account for layovers, as well. If the children are younger, it may be necessary for a parent to accompany them throughout the trip. Older children may be able to fly on their own. However, the visitation plan should consider the age at which the children may travel unaccompanied. The age at which a child may fly unaccompanied varies by airline. Additionally, the maturity of each child must be considered.
Numerous other issues arise in air travel that require inclusion in the parenting plan. Long distance parenting plans commonly consider arrival and departure airports. This includes whether the parents alternate responsibility, each takes responsibility for the delivery of the children to the other, or some other agreement. The plan should also establish such details as how to purchase tickets, choose airlines, consider alternatives such as the train, etc. Consideration of the age of the children may dictate acceptable travel times.
Communication Between the Non-Residential Parent and the Children
A long-distance parenting plan often proves for regular communication between the children and the distant parent. This communication can be by telephone or video. Services such as Skype or Facetime allow for face-to-face communication and are increasingly incorporated in long-distance parenting plans.
The parenting plan must establish a practical, regular schedule for communication. The schedule establishes a routine for the parents and their children. A regular schedule also prevents missed calls. Of course, the parent with the children should help the children establish the communication if the children are very young.
Email, text messages, and other methods of communication also help maintain regular between the distant parent and the children. The parents should be flexible enough to consider new communication options as they become available.
Using a Qualified, Experienced Attorney to Create a Long-Distance Parenting Plan
Long-distance parenting plans can become complicated. Working with a qualified, experienced family law attorney will help parents create a plan that works for their particular situation. An attorney will address issues the parents may not have considered. The parenting plan must be practical and allow for significant, meaningful visitation between the children and the non-residential parent. Contact the lawyers at Fait & DiLima to discuss your parenting plan needs.