When the homes of divorced or separated parents are far away from each
other, or if either parent relocates a significant distance away, a long-distance
parenting plan can provide the children and non-residential parents with
ample opportunity to maintain regular contact.
Long-distance parenting plans require careful consideration and detailed
planning that takes into account the unique realities of each family.
This can be challenging, however, especially if a regular pattern of visitation
had already been established and now must be renegotiated.
Let’s cover some of the key issues a long-distance parenting plan
Regular Monthly Visitation
Many long-distance parenting plans attempt to maintain contact between
the non-residential parent and the children with provisions that allow
for regularly monthly (or even semi-monthly) visits with the children
in their home state. Such provisions usually require the non-residential
parent to provide the residential parent with a certain amount of notice
of their intent to exercise this time to ensure that the children's
regular routine is not disrupted.
The long distance plan may also provide for the children to travel to the
non-residential parent's home state on a periodic basis as well.
Of course, in some cases, regular monthly visits may simply be impractical.
If the distance between the parents is substantial, it will likely be
both expensive and disruptive for the children or the parent to regularly
travel between the two homes. For this reason, most long distance parenting
plan will provide for longer visits during breaks from school.
Ample Residential Time During Breaks from School
In the interests of making up for the lack of regular contact between the
non-residential parent and children, long-distance parenting plans usually
provide for a substantial amount of visitation during breaks from school
For example, the non-residential parent may have time with the children
for the majority of the summer break from school, and also may have time
with the children during other breaks such as spring or mid-winter vacation.
The dates for non-holiday break periods vary across the country, of course,
so it is important to consult the schedule for the children's home
school district when planning for long distance visitation.
Important family holidays, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving are usually
split or alternated between the parents to ensure that each parent has
the ability to celebrate with the children. In a given year, each parent
should have the opportunity to celebrate at least one major holiday with
In addition, the non-residential parent may be designated to have time
with the children on longer holiday weekends such as Memorial Day and
Labor Day every year.
Of course, all of this travel between homes will require the parents to
make transportation arrangements on a regular basis. For this reason,
long-distance parenting plans must set out in detail how the children
will travel to see the other parent.
If the children will travel by air, the plan must provide for the children
to be accompanied by an adult at the departing, layover and arrival airports.
For younger children, this often means that a parent must travel with
them on each leg of the trip. Older children may be able to fly unaccompanied,
so the plan should also address the age at which the parents agree that
unaccompanied travel is appropriate (keep in mind that the specific age
at which a child may fly without an adult varies by airline).
Other important air travel details should also be considered and memorialized
in the plan, such as:
- The specific airports that the children will fly in and out of
- Acceptable times for travel to begin and end
- How and when tickets will be purchased
- Which parent is responsible for making travel arrangements
If the children will travel by car, the plan should specify which parent
provides transportation for their visits. The plan may require the non-residential
parent to provide all of the transportation or it may allocate the responsibility
between both parents.
Responsibility for payment of travel expenses can be included in the parenting
plan, but in many states this is more properly addressed in the child
Long-distance parenting plans also provide for regular, often daily, telephonic
communication between the children and the non-residential parent.
The use of video call services such as Skype or FaceTime is increasingly
common in long-distance parenting plans. Video calls permit the parent
and child to have a face-to-face conversation despite the distance between them.
It is essential to formulate a workable, regular schedule for telephone
calls. This helps both the parents and the children to establish and maintain
a routine, and also ensures that phone calls are not missed. When children
are very young, the residential parent should be directed to facilitate
telephone calls to ensure that they occur.
Other modes of communication, such as email or instant messenger, are also
convenient ways to maintain regular contact between the children and the
Working with an Attorney on Long-Distance Parenting Plans
Working with an experienced family law attorney is essential to ensuring
that all the details are properly addressed, so your long-distance parenting
plan will provide parents with practical and ample opportunities to maintain
and enrich their relationships with their children despite the distance.