Parenting plans can be hard to create and maintain, and when on parent lives far away from their child, it can require a little extra planning and care. At Alexander & Associates LLC Attorney’s at Law, we’ve created a list of things to consider when perfecting the long-distance parenting plan.
A long distance parenting plan is a legal document that outlines how a set of divorced parents who live far from one another will raise their child/children. The goal of the long distance parenting plan is to help both parents provide a stable environment for the child/children and to help them have a consistent understanding and actionable plan of care taking, who has custody when, and so forth. More specifically, the long-distance parenting plan outlines custody decisions, such as visitation schedules (including holiday visitation schedules), pre-determined healthy communication between the child and the long distance parent, respectful communication between the local parent and the distant parent, age-appropriate visitation frequency, travel arrangements, and more. Perfecting the long-distance parenting plan requires respectful communication between both parents and their attorneys, agreements about age-appropriate expectations for the child, and a mutual interest in maintaining the child’s best interest.
Visitation and Custody Scheduling in Long-Distance Parenting Plans
Both parents should ask themselves “How often should visitation occur?” When determining what is realistic for both parents, they need to consider how far they are from one another, if they will be driving or flying, how long the visitation periods should last, the age of the children, and a general plan for the entire year that includes holiday scheduling.
When the child/children reach an age where they are attending school, visitation will need to be scheduled around the education of the children. Younger children, on the other hand, should not be away from their primary caregiver for extended periods of time, and most visitation should occur in the home where they live.
Travel in Long-Distance Parenting Plans
Transporting the child/children from one parent’s home to the other’s should be agreed upon between both parents. Like visitation schedules, this is also heavily dependent upon the distance between the two parents, the location of the parents, and the age of the children. For example, if both parents live several hours away from each other, and both parents live in a city with a major airport, and their child is relatively young, they might agree to fly back and forth for visitation, and that the long-distance parent should fly with the child when picking them up and dropping them off. Alternatively, if the parents only live two or three hours from one another, they might agree to drive and meet halfway for picking the child up and dropping them off. Young children should always travel in the company of a care taking adult, but a mature teenager may be trusted to fly or drive alone.
Managing missed Parenting time and rescheduling in Long-Distance Parenting Plans
While it is always best to stick to the parenting plan, things happen, and sometimes plans need to change last. A good parenting plan will include contingencies for this – such as what kinds of emergencies allow for changes in a scheduled visit? Likewise, it should include requirements for when parenting time should be rescheduled if missed, and if/how the cost of travel should be covered.
How Discipline and rules are handled in Long-Distance Parenting Plans
Maintaining a consistent set of expectations and boundaries for the child/children helps them thrive in the homes of both parents. Parents should come to agree on certain things, such as rules for screen time, whether eating at the table would be enforced or if eating in front of the television is allowed, a reasonable bed time (that is age-appropriate for the child), and expectations for helping around the house. Likewise, age-appropriate disciplinary action should also be agreed upon and boundaries should be set on how discipline from a step-parent will be handled should either parent re-marry.
Religious Education Decisions in Long-Distance Parenting Plans
Religious education clauses are not included in every long-distance parenting plan simply because they are not necessary for all families. For example, if both parents practice the same religion, then it might not be necessary to include agreements for it. When both parents have a different religion, it can be difficult because both parents may want to raise their child within their own religious beliefs, which can necessitate a religious education clause. Religious education clauses will have a predetermined set of guidelines for how each parent will educate their child about their religion while in their care.
Maintaining the Relationships while Apart
One of the most important parts of creating a long-distance parenting plan is creating a plan for how the long-distance parent will maintain their relationship with their child/children. It is important to have scheduled calls and video chats for times where the parents and the child are available, such as Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 6pm, or whatever time works for the family, as long as it is consistent. Of course, it is also perfectly fine for the long-distance parent to try to communicate outside of a schedule, as long as they understand that the child might not be available, especially if they have extracurricular activities. Likewise, it is perfectly acceptable for a child to contact their parent outside of the schedule. The goal of a calling schedule is to make certain that regular communication happens and the relationship is maintained, not to restrict the frequency of communication.
At the end of the day, long-distance parenting plans help parents ensure that their children consistently feel safe, loved and content in both homes, and while traveling between them. One of the great things about parenting plans is that they can be updated as frequently as both parents want, and can be revisited as children mature and lives change. So are you ready to discuss a parenting plan? Give us a call at (970)725-6626.