Imagine divorced parents sharing equal child custody, 50/50. First, consider the logistics of making that work. Simply negotiating the amount of time will be difficult. There are 365 days in a year, which you cannot divide evenly. There are 12 months, which is an even number, but each month has varying amounts of days. A year has 52 weeks, which is even, but consider the difficulty forcing children to bounce from house to house every week.
Now imagine these parents juggling 50% custody when they live far apart. The distance between parents is one of the biggest factors that affects co-parenting decisions. It’s easy to see why. Distance creates obstacles for custody.
When making custody decisions, you have two major options: You can make these decisions for yourselves, or the court can do it for you.
We encourage you to work together whenever possible. When the court makes your decisions, you are disempowered. Someone else tells you what to do. By creating your own agreements, both you and your spouse have agency over what happens next. Even if you get the worst part of the deal, it’s a deal you agreed to, and you can take comfort in this knowledge.
What are the Long Distance Parenting Effects on a Child?
Custody decisions should always be in the best interests of the children. Your needs and desires should come second. Long distance parenting will affect a child's education, healthcare, emotional needs, and extracurricular interests. Be prepared to make sacrifices, knowing that the child’s needs are met. It’s more difficult for a distant parent to be involved in the day-to-day activities of their children. Even a distance of 20 miles or more can make daily participation nearly impossible.
Distance and Custody Considerations
Here are some common areas in which distance has a direct impact on custody decisions.
School is like a child’s 9 to 5 job. Some argue that the schedule is designed to acclimate kids to weekday work. Kids must arrive on time, and they cannot be on the grounds after school closes. They need reliable transportation to and from school. When one parent lives far away, it may be impossible for them to be involved in their child’s schooling. Busses won’t run that far out, and making the daily commute is unreasonable.
The distant parent may need to accept the fact that during weekdays, it’s simply better for kids to stay with the other parent. This may include Sunday nights as well.
For healthy children, healthcare may not be much of an issue for a long-distance parent. They can keep the kids for longer stretches without worry. Emergency care should be accessible, but this is true no matter what. If a child has special needs or suffers from chronic illnesses, however, distance becomes hugely important. Each parent needs reliable access to healthcare.
Weekend parents must keep the home prepared. They probably won’t be taking the child to doctor’s appointments, but the child needs immediate access to any necessary medical supplies. For disabled children, the home should be modified for accessibility.
Healthcare needs become even more of an issue when one parent is very far away. Not only should they have the home stocked and modified, but they may also need to help manage the child’s medical needs. Imagine a parent in another state. They take the kids for summer vacation each year, and at least one child has special needs. This parent must build relationships with local doctors, as the child will likely need to make a few visits. The parent should inform doctors that they are secondary, summer-only healthcare professionals. Steps must be taken to ensure that the full and part-time doctors share information, keeping the child’s treatment consistent.
You must consider these factors in your custody decisions. Create a meticulous plan that works for everyone, keeping the child’s healthcare front and center in your mind.
Any parent will tell you how difficult it is to travel with an unwilling child. Most kids don’t like sitting for long stretches. They’d rather be out playing and exploring. At the best of times, a divorce involving regular transport from one home to another can be hard on children.
Now imagine a child with a disorder such as autism. Any break in their routine can be a real problem for them. Simply having one parent missing can be overwhelming, and getting them accustomed to traveling between environments can be challenging.
Always remember that your child’s emotional state is just as important as their healthcare. As the distant parent, you must accept your child’s need to adjust. This may require seeing them less at first, letting them gradually fall into the new dynamic. This will be a hard sacrifice to make, but it will benefit everyone in the long run.
Remember that children are autonomous individuals with lives of their own. This fact becomes more apparent as they age. They have friends, church groups, sports teams, nearby relatives, extracurricular activities, and so on.
It may be hard to accept, but you must reckon with the fact that regular travel separates them from these things. Teenagers may have an especially hard time spending their weekends away from these activities. If the kids never come over, that isn’t fair to you, but forcing weekends on them isn’t fair either, especially when they have other activities in mind. Talk with your kids. Listen to their concerns, and express your own without judgement or accusation. You can work on a plan with them directly, helping meet everyone’s needs.
Getting Legal Help
You need a good attorney on your side when custody decisions go through the courts. They can help negotiate a reasonable custody split. If your spouse is uncooperative or attempts to block your custody, your lawyer will be invaluable. They can help prove the benefit you bring to the child’s life.
When negotiating custody decisions with your spouse, consider mediation. This is a non-combative process where you both meet with a neutral third party. A legal professional, your mediator, can make sure you cover all necessary decisions. They should also be trained in psychological techniques, keeping conversations productive and civil.
If you have questions or concerns about child custody, our office can give you a free consultation. Just call (347) 378-1170 today, or contact us online.