Considerations for Long Distance Custody Agreements and Visitation Schedules
In custody situations, if one parent moves away from the other you will need to create a long distance custody agreement. If this situation applies to you and you are in the initial stages of your custody proceedings, you will automatically have to include provisions for long distance custody. However, if a parent relocates after custody has been finalized, you will need to return to court to have your order modified.
Occasionally the parent that is relocating will try to go back to court to get sole custody in order to take the child out of the area. The parent may try to convince the judge that there are legitimate reasons that he or she should have sole custody. The parent may try to argue that moving with the child will be better for the child.
Sometimes these tactics work but it is usually only because the other parent was able to convince the judge that moving would in fact be in the best interests of the child. However, most judges consider continuity and stability to be important factors in a child’s life. Disrupting the child’s home, school, and community is not something to be done on a whim or without a good reason.
These attempts to gain sole custody of the child in order to move away with the child often backfire. The result is the child remains with the parent that is not moving away and often times that parent will have gained sole custody in the process.
It is a good idea to include provisions for a long distance custody arrangement in your original custody agreement. Planning ahead will prevent you from having to return to court which will save time and money. Having a pre-existing plan in place in the event a parent decides to move away will help you avoid an unnecessary court battle.
A typical long distance (300 miles or more) custody agreement might consist of the non-custodial parent having the child:
- Spring Break – Every year
- Fall Break (in states that have them) – Odd years
- Thanksgiving (from Wednesday to Sunday) – Even years
- Christmas (for seven days) – Odd years
- Summer – Thirty consecutive days for the first visit after school gets out with an additional two or three week visit at the end of summer
A typical long distance visitation schedule will allow the distanced parent to visit the child within the child’s community several times a year. You will need to decide how much advanced notice the visiting parent should give the other parent and the maximum amount of time each visit shall last.
Visits from the out of area parent should not interfere with the other parent’s allocated holidays and should not infringe upon a parent’s birthday or a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day celebration. A father could certainly visit the child on Father’s Day (or a mother, on Mother’s Day) and the custodial parent should not attempt to prevent the visit.
Travel expenses are something else you will need to consider in your custody agreement. Some judges will order the parents to share the travel and transportation expenses but you certainly do not have to agree to do so. The parent who moves away is creating the additional expense and it seems logical and fair that he or she should be responsible for paying for the costs. You can ask the judge to have the responsibility of the travel expenses to be held by the person that will cause the need for the expenses.
The age of your child should play a role in the length and frequency of long distance visitation. It is unreasonable to expect a two year old to go on a plane and spend thirty days apart from her primary parent / caregiver. You may include different custody arrangements for your child at different ages and stages in her life.
The standard long distance visitation schedules can be used as guidelines. You should not feel obligated to use them. If you can reach an agreement with the other parent you should be able to create your custody arrangements as you see fit.