Information about post-divorce families that plan to move, how to have a healthy long distance co-parenting relationship, and tips to prevent parent/child relationship breakdowns.
In today’s day and age, many divorced families will find themselves far from one another due to various reasons, such as job changes or the desire to move closer to relatives. For this reason, relocation disputes are becoming much more common, especially in families where one or both parents lack the appropriate co-parenting and communication skills necessary for this situation.
Relocation Disputes involve one parent requesting to move with the child(ren) a substantial distance away from the other parent, either at the time of divorce or sometime after. Research has shown us that relocating children away from one parent is a decision that has to be very carefully considered. Without specific protective factors in place, the extended physical and psychological separation can cause serious damage to the parent/child relationship and to the child’s overall mental health.
Currently, the state of Florida requires that the parent who is requesting to move, must out the request in writing and then informing the court and other parent. If moving is considered an issue, or unacceptable to the other parent, then a relocation hearing can be held to settle the dispute in court.
Implications of Moving
In situations where there is a lack of effective communication and co-parenting, the child can be deprived of the proper involvement of the parent in which they do not live with. Post-divorce mobility can pose a risk factor for children of divorce especially during their “growing” years and well into their adulthood.
Moving isn’t always a bad thing for post divorce families though. At times moving can be a positive experience, whether it be for better schools, better employment for parents, or to be closer to relatives for a better family support system. Moving can also mean a new and fresh start for post-divorce families.
Signs of Unhealthy Long-Distance Parenting
If a parent wants to moves with a child, the key factor to keeping the relationship between the child and other parent healthy, is to continue to stay very involved in the child’s life. If you and your former spouse do not have a civil relationship or cannot seem to communicate effectively, moving may not be in the best interest of the children right this moment, for a number of reasons.
The following list highlights a number of unhealthy behaviors that can occur in long distance co-parenting:
- Cuts off phone calls or doesn’t allow phone calls
- Withholds important information regarding the children such as school events, important milestones. or sickness
- Removes photos and other objects related to the other parent from their home
- Talks negatively about the other parent or “brainwashes” by telling them false information
- Refuses to communicate with the other parent
- Doesn’t encourage a relationship between the children and parent
- Doesn’t allow fair timesharing regardless of court order
- Refuses to be appropriately flexible in time sharing
There are additional instances where relocation is not healthy for the child or parent who didn’t move. The term Parental Gatekeeping is defined as a parent’s preferences and attempts to restrict and exclude the other parent from being involved in the child’s development. Gatekeeping attitudes and behaviors can range from very positive, which are facilitative, to very negative, which are inhibitory, or to the most extreme known as Parental Alienation.
In relocation disputes, gatekeeping takes on even more significance, as it usually will be a point of emphasis by both parents. If, for example, the court believes the moving parent will be a restrictive gatekeeper, then it greatly increases the likelihood the relocation will not be allowed because the court will anticipate that any long distance parenting plan will not accomplish the goal of facilitating sufficient involvement by the non-moving parent.
On the extreme end of the spectrum, parents may end up engaging in full blown attempts at parental alienation. Parental alienation is a term used to describe when a parent uses manipulation, restricted communication, and negative behavior to alienate the non-custodial parent from the children. Parental Alienation also involves using the children as pawns by making them believe the other parent is a “bad” parent or doesn’t care about them. If the non-custodial parent doesn’t live close, this issue could escalate rapidly without intervention.
Healthy Long-Distance Co-Parenting
When you’re co-parenting a child who may not live close by, it can be difficult to display the proper support compared to being close to the child and supporting them in person. The most important key in healthy long-distance parenting is to always stay involved and informed. This means having a stable relationship with the other parent who will have the child full-time. Having a stable relationship will allow effective communication of important events and milestones such as graduations or recitals.
Be aware of important dates, important milestones in the child’s life and development. This can all be done by phone, texting, email, skype, or FaceTime. Staying involved with children by asking how their day went, school, friends, and extra curricular activities are also gives the child a sense of caring and support. When the child feels supported, it is proven they will have a greater chance of doing well in school and avoiding drugs or alcohol.
Here are some other tips on how to stay in touch with your child, from a distance:
- Try to make trips as often as possible or invite the child(ren) to your home for mini-vacations
- Send photos, articles, books, magazines or movies you know the child would love or be interested in
- Facetime, webcameras, and skype are all really great ways to see one another
- Schedule phone calls with the child during a time where you can both devote at least 20-30 uninterrupted minutes or more to talk about the day or upcoming events
- Texting is a quick way to check on your child, send them a good morning at the beginning of their day to let them know you’re thinking of them
- If there is a show that you and your child usually watch, try watching it “together” over the phone or through a webcamera.
- Buy two copies of the same book, one to keep and the other to send and read the book to the child over the phone
If you’re the primary parent who has moved, here is how to keep your child’s parent involved:
- Keep photos and reminders of the non-custodial parent to support their involvement
- Keep them up to date on the child’s milestones, important dates, or school functions
- Encourage phone calls, letters, emails, texts, and other forms of communication
- If financially able, support the other parent in visiting the child or send the child to visit
- Encourage positive and supportive conversations about the other parent
- Remind the child to call the parent on a daily basis
- Keeping a photo album of important dates, programs, sport or school event photos, to send to the other parent helps them feel involved and encourages their involvement as well.
- Send copies of report cards, diplomas, or other certificates to the other parent to share
- Keep a phone in the child’s room to allow access to call the other parent at their own time and in the privacy of their room
- Mail fun art and crafts to the parent from the children
- If there is parent teacher conferences, allow the other parent to participate via telephone
The bottom line is, as a parent who loves their children, who is willing to do what it takes to keep them emotionally happy and healthy, you are going to need to support their relationship with their other parent, regardless of where your ex lives, or how you personally feel about them. The only exception to this rule is in situations where the court has already determined that it is not in your children’s best interest to maintain contact, usually due to some form of abuse or neglect.
If you have questions regarding these issues, or would like to request a Relocation Evaluation or private mental health consultation, please call us at 561-429-2140 to speak directly to the doctor about your case.