How to Create a Workable Long-Distance Parenting Plan
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 should address.
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 and holidays.
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 the children.
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 support order.
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 non-residential parent.
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.