The Long Distance Parenting Plan

March 13, 2005
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When getting a divorce, there are a million things to consider. Add custody to the mix.. and the possibility of having a distance relationship between one of the parents and the child and you have a virtual circus on your hands. Here are some things to remember in your long distance divorce and custody agreement.

Make it what you want

Your divorce agreement and parenting plan can include just about anything that you want it to include as long as either A. both parents agree to include it or B. If the other parent disputes it, the judge says it should be there. The thing to remember is that this agreement, once made will be very difficult – if not impossible to change.

MAKE SURE that you read, re-read and read again every single line before you sign anything. Make sure that you have considered every item as well as possible and that you agree with everything there. Should disagreements arise between yourself and your futuer ex-spouse, try to negotiate by adding or taking away conditions that make it more pleasant for them. Use other items that arent as important to barter with. Always with the frame of mind of coming to a common ground. Should that be impossible to do, consider going to mediation.

Remember what’s important

The child! In the thick of things, it’s easy to get caught up in how horrible the other parent is and how much you dislike them or how hurt you are by what they said or did. However, in 10 years or 20 years, those feelings will have subsided but their effects and the effect of the agreements you make now will remain.

When pondering a difficult decision regarding the agreement, always think ‘How would I feel if the tables were turned and that condition were imposed upon me?’ or ‘How would that condition affect my relationshiop with my child if it were imposed upon me?’ If you wouldnt want that condition put upon you, you probably shouldnt put that condition on them.

By the same token, don’t agree to things or be forced into things that would diminish your relationship with the child.

Never go on faith

So you get along great and the child’s other parent tells you ‘dont worry about that.. I’ll always do that for you’. Get it in writing! If your relationship changes 5 years down the road, you wont want to be shorted and what’s in writing is what counts. It isnt an insult to them to make them put it in writing. It’s sensable and the smart thing to do. If they wont put it in writing, dont depend upon it

Whatever can happen WILL happen down the road. Consider every possible contingency. What things could the other parent use as excuses to deny virtual visitation? For instance, stipulate that both parents are required to maintain working webcams, computers and internet connections. That is a fairly painless requirement – but should they use a non-working computer or internet connection as a consistent excuse to deny visitation, down the road, they will be held in contempt because it’s in the parenting plan.

Long Distance Communication Considerations

  • Internet Visitation (Virtual Visitation) – Both parents should be required, in writing to maintain a high speed internet connection and a working computer with working web cam. Internet visitation should happen as frequently as in-person visitation would if the long distance parent were close by
  • Telephone – Will the child have a dedicated phone line? Who will pay and how much – either for a phone line or long distance?
  • Travel Expenses – if the child is young, s/he will be unable to travel unaccompanied (per the airlines). Who will pay how much for travel and what will be included? Will it be deducted from child support?

Long Distance Travel Considerations

  • If your child is too young to fly alone, who will escort them?
  • Who will foot the travel bill? Will it be split? If so, what is the maximum the custodial parent will be required to pay?
  • How far in advance do reservations need to be made? What input does the other parent have into travel arrangement dates/times?

Visitation

  • What special holidays will you have the child? Which school vacations will the child spend with you?
  • Before and after long visitations, should the child have a settling in period before school starts again (return the child 1 week before school starts)?
  • If you are in town, what type of visitation should you be entitled to?

Financial

  • What years will you get to claim the child on your taxes? It’s common to alternate.
  • When the child is with you for extended periods of time (months) who will pay child support to who?
  • How much life insurance will you each carry and who will the beneficiary be?
  • Who will maintain medical and dental insurance for the child?
  • Until the child is what age will you be required to pay child support?
  • How will the child’s college expenses be paid?

General Custody Items

  • School – what kind of school, what kind of access each parent will have to the child while they are in school, what kind of information each parent is entitled to from the school, funding for private school, funding for college
  • Roommates – If the parents have roommates, what kind of criminal and psychiatric backgrounds the roommate must have, how much say does the other parent have
  • babysitters, family and childcare – when the child is with family, babysitters or childcare o the other parent, what kind of access will the parent have to the child?
  • The unexpected – make sure that both parents are required to carry life insurance with the child (or trust fund) as the beneficiary. Also make sure that custody reverts to non-resident parent should the resident parent fall ill and be unable to take care of the child.. or should the resident parent leave the child with someone else for an extended amount of time

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