Last month, our firm discussed long-distance parenting and how it affects child custody decisions. We did not, however, offer practical tips for long-distance parents. This month, we will do just that. Ultimately, we trust that you know what’s best for your kids, so aren’t going to offer granular, specific tips for each topic. Instead, we will offer broad considerations to help you create a plan that works for you.
How Far Is “Long-Distance”?
Depending on where you live, its traffic patterns, city layout, and so forth, a good guideline is to assume that at least 20 miles between parents is “long-distance.”
This may not sound like a lot, but when you consider how distance affects every aspect of parenting, the 20-mile standard becomes clearer.
How Distance Affects Parenting
Think of how much of our lives is determined by distance. The modern world doesn’t revolve around a tribe living together in small villages. We have the option to word well beyond our homes, and we have close loved ones who live miles away.
Now consider a child’s needs in that modern world. Despite their being young and mostly helpless, they still require time, planning, and coordination to properly function in society. Two loving parents in a stable home can have difficulty with these logistics. Coordination becomes far more difficult when the parents are no longer together, and the plan must change completely when parents are far apart.
Here are some key areas where parenting is affected by distance.
When you live apart from your ex, school schedules alone make 50/50 custody a nightmare. Simply getting the kids to and from school becomes virtually impossible between both homes. Each parent must also consider their own jobs and commutes while juggling the transport of the kids.
Furthermore, actual learning is impacted. Usually, the kids will have homework or enrichment activities. If they’re stressed about going from place to place, this work is easily neglected. If you are far from the kids’ school, you should probably assume that they will stay with the other parent throughout the week.
Children with special needs or chronic illnesses require continued, constant, immediate care. Just like with school, it’s probably best for one parent to keep them most of the time. They will have more access to the child’s medical team, managing visits and treatments throughout the week.
Distance makes caring for these kids more difficult. Even when they don’t need urgent attention, the distant home must be stocked with the kid’s supplies, medicines, and so on.
Outside Interests/Extracurricular Activities
It’s always important to remind yourself that your child is a fully formed person with a life of their own. This becomes increasingly true as the child ages. Remember that their social lives are important to them.
If they are asked to go long distances to be with you, this cuts them off from those lives. Be ready to sacrifice some time with them when necessary. Forcing them to come see you can cause conflict, especially if they are teens or pre-teens. Always keep their best interests in mind, even when it’s hard for you.
Creating Your Parenting Plan
You can put virtually any aspect of parenting within your plan. You should cover the major issues, such as education, healthcare, and the other topics covered above. Additionally, you can add things that are important to you, such as diet, entertainment choices, and so on.
When creating your parenting plan, keep distance in the forefront of your mind. Consider each possible scenario through this lens, and incorporate it into your plan.
You may have noticed that we’re discussing creating your own plan, and we’re not talking about courts making these decisions. Whenever possible, you should make divorce agreements alongside your spouse. Courts are dispassionate, and they often make decisions that feel unfair. If you need help negotiating your plan with your spouse, consider attending mediation rather than battling out your parenting plan in court.
Tips for When You Are Closer
Let’s assume that, even if you are at a long distance, that distance is “shorter” when it is 20 to 30 miles away. Weekend parenting is a viable is an option at such distances. To ease everyone’s burden, you could consider an every-other-weekend arrangement.
Vacations are a good time to take the kids as well. Spring break, Thanksgiving break, and Christmas break offer long stretches of time to spend with them. To keep things fair, you can alternate major holidays with the other parent annually.
Always remember that visitation is also an option. You don’t always need to bring the kids home. You can go to them, taking them out for dinner, ice cream, bowling, etc. Electronic communication also counts as visitation. You can schedule regular phone calls, video chats, etc. These communications are as legally valid as physical visits. They cannot be blocked or postponed by the other parent.
Tips for When You Are Further Away
Let’s assume that a “longer” distance requires real travel. You could be an hour or more apart by car, or you could be an entire state away. In this situation, your electronic visitation rights are crucial. Make sure to build these into your parental agreement, and be faithful to them.
Vacations are helpful when you are far from the kids. Keeping them for summer break is a great option, as is Spring Break, Christmas Break, etc.
Remember, transporting the kids can be expensive. As the distant parent, you are financially responsible for plane, train, and automobile expenses. You may also be held responsible for the child’s safety during travel. Make sure you budget accordingly, along with the expenses of having them at home for long stretches.
If you have questions or concerns about your long-distance parenting plan, our firm can help. For a free consultation, call (914) 312-4131 today, or contact us online.