One of the hardest tasks that parents face when going through the divorce process is creating a parenting plan that works for the children and both of the parents. To complicate matters, if one parent decides that it is necessary to move a significant distance from the other, the ability to negotiate details and compromise on small issues diminishes. Bottom line – one parent often feels as if they are getting the very short end of the stick. The idea of being physically far from one’s child can evoke some very STRONG emotions, so naturally, these cases tend to be one of the most costly and highly litigated of its kind. With this in mind, we’ve compiled some helpful tips to consider when creating your long distance parenting plan.
Coordinate & Communicate.
Ideally, the process of creating a parenting plan should involve negotiation and agreement from both parents, with input on some topics from the children if old enough to express their opinions on (kid friendly) topics. This document is very important with serious implications if you fail to comply with it. It is ordered and signed by the judge; it should be considered legally binding and followed as strictly as possible. For this reason, ensure that you coordinate with your former spouse to cover all of your basis from little things such as when the children can call the distant parent, when the children will be flown or driven to the distant parent, who will cover the expenses, at what age are the children allowed to travel alone, where will they be during each holiday throughout the year, etc. Both parents should try to allow for a reasonable amount of “wiggle room” if small details need adjusting, that way there is a back up plan to utilize and the case is not chronically litigated.
It is the responsibility of both parents to set the foundation for positive communication and the flexibility to include the distant parent in the child’s life and upbringing. If open communication is an issue with your former spouse, try contacting a clinician/therapist that can guide you both through communicating and co-parenting more effectively. Remember, as the parent of minor a child, odds are you will have to be in a co-parenting relationship with your former spouse for quite some time and it is necessary to help your child be as happy and well adjusted as possible. So, try seeking help before your differences and poor communication negatively effect your parenting.
Effective co-parenting is lead by compromise from both parents. In one situation or another, it will often require parents to be more flexible than they really want to be, in order to ensure the well-being of the child. In a long distance parenting situation, both parents will have to be flexible to ensure the child receives the adequate amount of bonding time with both families, even if that means sharing holidays, birthdays, or other important events. The most important thing to remember is that the parenting plan should be built for the child and their best interests. Although there are exceptions, for example if the distant parent’s birthday is in the middle of the week during the school year, it may not be in the child’s best interest to miss days of school to be there. Keep in mind, however, that it should then be the custodial parent’s responsibility to allow the child to make up the time the following weekend, or decorate a homemade birthday card, send flowers, have video or talk time with the distant parent, or some other kind of activity to ensure the child is encouraged to engage with them.
Long distance parenting can become very taxing on both parents, from travel expenses and time, to worrying about when your child will be old enough to travel alone. Both parents should equally contribute to travel expenses if financially able. Remember, it is in the child’s best interest to spend time with both parents, therefore it is the responsibility of both parents to ensure this happens. Luckily, there are a number of travel options to choose from depending on the age of your child. The majority of airlines now have a “door-to-door” service which escorts children from one flight to the next. For a more economical option, many bus stations now offer similar services as well. Before choosing a form of travel, always discuss the options with the other parent and the child, to encourage their involvement and acceptance of the plan.
Expenses might be one of the largest obstacles for those who are working with a long distance parenting plan. For this reason, again, it may be best for both parents to contribute to travel expenses. If flights are too expensive for both parents or you’re just not comfortable sending your child on a flight with the “door-to-door” service consider driving to a half-way point to meet the other parent. This is another example of where compromise comes in handy!
Here are some additional important questions to ask before creating your parenting plan:
– What special holidays will you or the distant parent have the child?
– Who will the child spend school vacations with?
– Before and after long visitations, should the child have a settling in period before school starts again (i.e. return the child one week before school begins)?
– If the distant parent is in town, what kind of visitation will the parent be entitled to?
– If the case is international, are you both in countries with Hague Convention Agreements, and will passports or safety be an issue?
– Can the child have privacy when speaking to the other parent, or should the calls be monitored?
– Have you considered developmental factors and the impact of lengthy periods of time away from the other parent?
Trying to parent from a distance can be difficult, especially when your children are very young or wanting independence in their teenage years. For this reason, it can be very easy for the distant parent to feel left out or unimportant. Therefore, consistently scheduled talk or webcam time should be negotiated as well as activities for the child to engage in to allow the other parent to participate. A great way to do this would be to have the child schedule a time to “watch” a television show with the distant parent while they’re on the phone together. Even having the distant parent read a book or story over the phone can comfort the child and make them feel connected. Another great activity would be to have the child periodically draw pictures for the distant parent, keep a weekly journal for the child to mail or email at the end of each week, or engage on social media when age appropriate. This way, the distant parent is kept up to date on what might be going on in the child’s life and the child feels that the distant parent cares enough to do so.
Whenever possible, the residential parent should keeping in close contact with the distant parent to help them feel included and encourage their relationship with the child. Although they are far away, they should still be kept informed of the child’s progress in school and participation in activities. If there are ever important events such as a parent-teacher conference, doctor’s appointments, etc., consider scheduling the meeting at a time the distant parent can participate via speaker phone or webcam. If there is a ceremony of any kind, the distant parent should do their very best to attend, but if it isn’t possible, the residential parent should consider taping the ceremony and sharing it with the distant parent, that way the next time the distant parent and child are in contact, the distant parent can express to the child how proud they are and how exciting it was to watch the event take place.
The bottom line is this: Working together with your ex to create a long distance parenting plan can be very challenging, and at times, blatantly annoying or even maddening. But, as a parent who loves their child, who has vowed to do anything and everything that it takes to help them grow up confident, happy, and emotionally healthy, you can do this!!
Please feel free to call one of our experienced forensic psychologists if you have any questions, or would like a formal consultation for co-parenting help and/or assistance in developing your interstate or international parenting plan. We can be reached at: