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How to co-parent long distance

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

Co-parenting can be hard enough when you live a few suburbs away, but what about when you have to co-parent hours away or even interstate!

There are many reasons why parents move away after separation. These could include moving;

· back closer to family and friends for a support network

· to make a fresh start and new job opportunities

· to a more affordable location

· due to postings in the military

So how can you make it work?

It’s important to negotiate with your ex on how this may work for your family so you can put consent orders in place. If you don’t make it legal, a verbal agreement or parenting plan cannot be enforced! This can result in an adversarial court battle!

If you are struggling to negotiate with your ex, embark on mediation with a family dispute practitioner to help you reach an agreement. If you don’t reach agreement, you could end up in court with a judge deciding the outcome for you!

Best approach is for both parents to come to an agreement, as you know your family circumstances best and know what would work for your family. That’s right, you will still be a family, as long as you have kids. You may not be partners, but you will always be parents…. and for a very long time. So, it’s best to be able to set your family up for long term coparenting success! Be child focused on what is best for the children ensuring they have a relationship with both parents.

So, what do you need to consider?

If parents are going to be more than 1 hour away, it may not be feasible for a parent to drive children to and from their current school. Kids can be tired getting up extra early to go to school a long distance away affecting their concentration and focus on studies. A long trip after school may also affect their ability to complete homework and gain the rest they need for the next day.

You may decide it is best for the child to stay in their existing school to provide some stability amidst major change or you may feel the children would like to spend as much time with each parent and move to a school half way between parent’s houses.

Setting up a schedule on where the child will go to school will then require a plan on where they will live to access school more readily during the week. If they are going to stay at their current school you may decide that they live during the week with the parent closest to the school and the other parent may pick them up from school on a Friday to have them all weekend dropping them home Sunday. The other parent may schedule daily or biweekly calls with the children so as to stay connected with their child’s daily life and talk about the fun things they will do when they go to stay at their house. If they move to a school in between both parents the possibility of 50/50 shared parenting may be achievable but bear in mind the impacts of moving the children away from their current school that provides them with existing teachers and friends support relationships.

So, what if one parent wants to move interstate? It makes it harder to do regular shared parenting. Kids can’t live between two homes and attend two schools, so how do you manage this scenario? You may decide it is best for the children to stay at their current school with a primary carer and every school holidays have a week with the other parent interstate. If this isn’t enough time, the interstate parent could travel to the state where the children generally reside and rent a holiday house for a week near the child’s school and have time with them. Alternatively, if the children are moving interstate with a primary carer, you could have the children if old enough, travel alone or accompanied by a parent to fly to the other parent’s home in the school holidays. Once again, the non-primary carer parent could fly interstate to spend a week with the kids.

Once you develop a plan of shared parenting timeframes across the year, be sure to include Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, Christmas, Easter, School holidays events, etc. Often these special occasions are forgotten but are so important for the children to share with their parents.

There are also the costs of travel to consider. Who is going to pay for these travel expenses? Will it be shared? Will it be the parent doing the travelling who pays? Who picks kids up and drops them off? Where will handover take place? What is feasible for your family circumstances?

Time of day is also important for pickup and drop off of children to be defined. Some families like to be very specific to put an exact time, such as children are to be;

· dropped back to primary carer at 4pm Sundays or

· handed over at halfway point McDonalds at specific suburb at 12pm on Sundays

· flown back to city/state arriving at 6pm Sunday of designated school holiday week

Having exact times can create angst between parents if time is difficult to meet due to flights or long-distance traffic, so it is very important to be flexible if possible.

Always consider the impacts on the children when negotiating shared parenting ensuring their needs are the highest priority giving them the opportunity to have a relationship with both parents in person and remotely via phone/facetime without impacting their well-being.

A good test of the solutions that you propose to the other parent is confirming it would be a solution you would accept yourself if the same proposal was reciprocated to you.

We can all think of our best-case scenario, and want that, BUT it is important to compromise and come up with a solution that will suit everyone in the family…. a WIN/WIN solution……especially for the kids!

Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Mediator & Author

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