Whether you are newly separated or you have been divorced for years, when one parent moves out of state, it creates a host of issues when it comes to a custody arrangement. If you are the parent who is moving, you might have feelings of guilt to attend to in addition to concern over whether you will see your child frequently enough to maintain a relationship. If your ex is the one leaving, you might worry about how it will affect your child and how their relationship will fare. You also might be concerned about the length of visits, transportation, and other logistics. Read on to learn more about how to handle these types of issues.
Which State Is in Charge?
All states except for Massachusetts and Vermont ascribe to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJA). This means that the state that makes the decisions about where the child will live is the child’s home state. For example, if the child has lived in California for all of his or her life and one parent moves to Oregon, California still has jurisdiction over the custody case.
There are a few exceptions. One is if the child needs to be removed from the home state for safety purposes. For example, if one parent has been charged with child abuse and the other parent lives out of state, the non-home state might be considered the child’s home state from that point on. Another exception is if the child has significant support in the other state. This is common when a family lives near a state border. If you are in California but live 10 miles from the border of Nevada and much of your extended family, as well as your child’s daycare provider, live in Nevada, then if your ex moves to Nevada, he or she might be able to request that Nevada handle the custody battle. In general, however, deference goes to the child’s home state.
Also, if one state has already put a custody arrangement in place, then it will stand whether or not the potential exception situations are relevant.
How Do You Modify Visitation or Custody Agreements?
If you live close to a state border and your ex moves just over the border, you might not need to change the visitation or custody agreement at all. If you live on the west coast and your ex moves to the east coast, however, joint physical custody will need to be re-evaluated. It would not be reasonable for parents to switch off each week or for a child to spend every other weekend with the parent who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away.
The two of you can work out your new custody or visitation arrangement on your own and have it approved by a judge. If you both agree and the visitation is reasonable (i.e. both parents will have access to the child), it would most likely be approved. If the two of you do not agree, then you can petition the court and have a hearing so a judge can make a decision. Working together to develop a new parenting plan will be a less expensive and less emotionally difficult option, so strive for this, if possible.
What About Logistics?
Sometimes, the parent who moves will be responsible for paying for transportation for the child to visit and to go home again. Both parents can work together to think of another option, if necessary or desired. Transportation might include a car ride in the case of a parent moving a relatively short distance away or a train or airplane ride for a parent who has moved across the country. In some cases, the parents will meet in the middle to exchange the child; other times, the child will need to fly alone. If he or she is too young to fly alone, then one parent will need to accompany him or her on the flight.
Sometimes, parents might elect to use unaccompanied minor programs that are available through most airlines. With this type of program, an airline employee will care for your child from the time one parent drops him or her off at the airport until the other parent picks him or her up. There are age limitations and specific rules that vary, so be sure to check with the airline in question.
When it comes to scheduling, the school calendar will need to be considered for children who are in school. For younger children, separation anxiety from the primary caregiver needs to be considered. In general, an infant or a toddler is not going to go and stay with the non-custodial parent for a week or two at a time. In these cases, the non-custodial parent might need to go back to the child’s home state and arrange for visitation to take place in a nearby hotel or at a relative’s home. Older children might be fine visiting the non-custodial parent for several weeks during the summer and for a week in the winter or spring.
Maintaining a Long-Distance Relationship
It is important for children to be able to maintain a relationship with both parents even if one parent moves away. Here are some tips to consider:
- Have regular “virtual visitation” where the child will talk to the non-custodial parent via Facetime, Skype, or some other app that allows for face-to-face conversations.
- Encourage the child to call his or her other parent when they do well on a test, score the winning goal at a soccer game, or pass their driver’s license exam. In the same respect, encourage calls when they fail a test or break up with a romantic partner; the non-custodial should know the good and bad things that happen in the child’s life.
- Create traditions and rituals while the child is with you if you are the one who moved out of state. For example, serve pancakes on the weekends whenever the child is with you, or make an annual trip to the zoo or amusement park. Let your child know that they can count on something consistent during their visits.
- Send care packages or letters regularly. Children of all ages love getting mail, and this is a great way to stay in touch and let him or her know that you are thinking of them.
Living away from your child can be difficult for all involved, but it does not have to mean the end of your relationship. Contact National Family Solutions to see if we can help you determine the best course of action when it comes to securing custody of your child.