Long Distance Parenting Plans
Dear Dr. Jann,
I have a job opportunity in another county that I am considering, but my son’s mother says we will have to change the parenting plan so that he can live with her during the school week. Although there will be an hour commute each way, I will be able to get my child to school and pick him up from the after school program. Why would we have to change the plan? What do long distance parenting plans look like?
Long distance parenting plans can work and don’t necessarily mean less time with your child overall. Because your son will be sitting in a car for an hour before school and an hour after school going to and from your home, all of his friends will be an hour away, he will have to get up earlier, and it will take 2 hrs out of his day where he could be doing homework or interacting with family and friends. If he participates in extracurricular activities, say soccer, for instance, his practices and games will be an hour away. If he is ill and must go home from school when he is scheduled to be with you, his home will be an hour away. Therefore, if you must move, a change in your parenting plan does seem like it is in the best interest of your child.
Although breaking up prompts parents to want to move farther from each other, if they are coParenting, I often suggest they move closer. Many balk and think that’s ridiculous, but if you are making your decisions in the best interest of the kids, you live where it makes them most comfortable. If both parents live in the same school district the child can easily go between homes, attend the same school, and participate in extracurricular activities that require weekly practices and games. This way both mom and dad can support the child equally.
When you are living a distance away but you have equal custody on paper, the other parent will ultimately end up filling in when you can’t get there on time, will make sure the child gets to practices and finishes up projects, and will also be interacting more with other parents because they live in the neighborhood. As a result, they will “feel” like the primary parent. You’ll be fighting an uphill battle doing your best to be “equal” and being equal may not be what’s best for your child in this stage of their lives.
This is when I hear, “But I have to work! If I don’t I won’t be able to pay child support. Are the courts going to dock me time because I have to work?” That’s not the point. The courts don’t dock parents for working, but if you live an hour away from where your child attends school, you may not be able to have an equally shared parenting plan during the school year. To compensate, your child’s parenting plan may offer you more time in the Summer and during school breaks. That’s good ex-etiquette.