There is nothing more difficult for families than trying to make cohesive decisions following divorce. Even the smoothest divorces involving children still end with difficulty. Both parents want equal time and say with their children, but rarely do parenting plans consider the child’s best interests.
This can only be made more complicated when you add long distances between parents into the occasion. When easy travel back and forth between houses isn’t possible, a long distance parenting plan becomes necessary for all parties involved to have an equal and fair say in their child’s upbringing.
A parenting plan is a written set of instructions for how parents will raise their children. They involve specific pieces of information about each child involved.
Parenting plans can be both formal and informal. Informal parenting plans are an outline of an agreed-upon set of rules for their children. But most parenting plans are more formal than that.
When parents need a parenting plan, they get outside help through independent consults. This helps them reach agreements through mediation instead of the court.
Children’s health specialists cite the benefits that parenting plans have on children. They see their divorced parents working together and gain a sense of confidence and security.
Each parenting plan, like each set of parents, is unique. Depending on where you live, your state may have standards surrounding parenting plans.
For the most part, parenting plans contain how much time and when the child will spend with each parent. They’ll have special considerations surrounding school holidays and other special times as well.
It should have instructions for which parents will make decisions about the child’s wellbeing. It will outline consistent rules between both homes. There should also be a provision about what to do when parents can’t reach agreements together.
Creating a parenting plan can be hard. To make it easier, here is a list of provisions and some examples you may find useful.
Getting the child back and forth between houses is one of the most common gripes in co-parenting relationships. Have a clause in your co-parenting plan so there is no confusion.
For children who will travel by air, your plan needs to include who will go with the child to the plane for each departure, layover, and arrival. Depending on how old your child is, a parent may need to go with them for the entire flight. Older children may fly unaccompanied, in which case you will need to have clear communication with them on what to do in emergencies as well.
Some other air travel details to include are:
If you plan to use a car to travel long distances, specify which parent will do the driving, where the meetup location will be, and how the trip will be funded.
Here is an example of a travel arrangement clause in a long distance parenting plan:
“Each parent will be responsible for driving halfway to exchange custody of the child. The agreed-upon meeting location is the XYZ Diner in Smalltown, USA. The drop-off time is noon.”
This plan communicates what each parent will be responsible for as well as a neutral meeting place. Parenting plans should not be vague. All details should be included.
Another clause to include could be how you plan to communicate with your co-parent. It’s better for your child if you and your co-parent can communicate in a consistent, civil way. A child’s life is always changing and both parents deserve to stay in the loop about those changes, whether they’re the active parent at the moment or not.
Your communication agreement could include the use of video calls, scheduled calls, or even regular texts and emails to each other. A weekly or bi-weekly meeting to catch up on things in your child’s life helps to keep both parents informed and involved.
Communication between the non-residential parent and the child should be arranged as well. Decide what times and how the child will communicate with the parent they aren’t currently staying with.
An example of a communication clause could look like this:
“Every third Tuesday, both parties will enter a phone call at 8:00 PM to discuss any issues or important items in the child’s life.”
“Every weekday after 5 PM, the non-residential parent will be permitted a phone call with the child that lasts for 30 minutes.”
If you have a court-appointed custody agreement, you don’t necessarily have to include it in your parenting plan. But, if you and your co-parent are attempting to work out the custody agreement on your own, it should be included in your co-parenting plan.
There are many different custody agreements you can choose from depending on what your child needs. Depending on how far apart your home is from your co-parent, visitation may only be possible during the times when school is out for a break. Maybe 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off schedule is better for you.
Whatever your custody agreement looks like, it should be listed in clear terms in your parenting plan. Consider adding a shared calendar for both parents to keep updated with important dates and things to consider.
Your long distance parenting plan custody agreement may look like this:
“The parties agree that the shared time between parents will be split with 51% for Parent A and 49% for Parent B. The child will remain with Parent A for the school year and alternating holidays. The child will remain with Parent B for extended school breaks and alternating holidays.”
To maintain a consistent lifestyle across both families, a consistent method of discipline is important. A child needs that consistency so they can safely test their boundaries and grow.
Here is an example of a discipline clause in a long-distance parenting agreement:
“Each parent handles disciplining the child when they are in their care. If any problems surrounding discipline arise, the parent who was made aware of the discipline problem needs to contact the other parent and discuss to agree on an appropriate course of action.
“Neither parent will allow any third party to inflict punishment whether it is corporal, physical, or otherwise. No discipline can override the parenting schedule unless both parents agree.”
In addition to discipline decisions, the rules should be the same too. If a child is permitted to do something in one home but not permitted in the next, it could become confusing and result in unintentional breaking of the rules. This can cause a lot of undue stress during an already stressful time.
If you have specific rules involving phone usage, time spent on television or video games, curfew, or other things, lay them out in your parenting agreement.
Additionally, you may want to include more general aspects of child-rearing, like the availability of food and snacks. This protects both you and your child.
An example of a parenting agreement clause involving child-rearing may look like this:
“Both parents are responsible for ensuring that the place the child will stay has all necessities such as electricity, heat, and running water. Each parent will provide a balanced diet during the time the child is in their care.”
Religious education can get tricky when you are splitting time between two homes. You may not have to include a clause for religious education if neither you nor your spouse is interested in religion. Also, if you both have the same religion and are on the same page about service attendance, you could probably avoid it.
But if you differ on what religion your child should be raised with, it may be a good idea to get a mediator to work out how you will handle religiously educating your child.
One example of a religious education clause is:
“Each parent may take their children to a church or place of worship of their choice when they are in their care.”
“Neither parent may allow the child to get involved with religious activities without the consent of the other.”
If your co-parent is in another relationship, you may want to include a provision about your child’s involvement in your parenting plan. Whether your child may live with your co-parent’s new relationship is a deeply personal and often emotionally charged issue.
You could consider including a clause that forbids either parent from openly calling their new romantic partner their “stepmother” or “stepfather” until they are legally married.
However, “other relationships” don’t necessarily mean romantic relationships. There may be family members, friends, or other people that you wish to protect your child from.
A parenting plan could include a request that your child not be left alone with certain people or that they should completely avoid contact. This can also include a statement about the grandparent’s visitation rights.
Now that you know the different aspects that could be involved in your parenting plan, you need to know how to write one. It’s not as easy as sitting down and writing down everything you want out of a co-parenting relationship. It involves you digging deep to consider what is best for your child in this shared arrangement.
Your priority needs to be keeping your child’s best interest at heart. At no point should the long distance parenting plan creation become about spite, jealousy, or pettiness. Divorce is already hard enough on all parties involved.
Consider your child’s physical and emotional needs. Then, consider what you would like to see. Try to connect these two goals, the goals of the other parent, and create a road map that will get you there.
It’s important that during the creation of a long distance parenting plan that you keep the lines of communication open. Allow all involved parties to be candidly honest about their feelings and their needs. This is how you will create a plan that makes everyone happy and creates a safe, loving environment for your child.
Sometimes, coming up with the best plan of action requires mediation. Divorce can be messy. It’s often an emotional affair that can leave wounds that take time to heal.
But your child shouldn’t have to suffer because of those wounds. If you and your co-parent are unable to see eye to eye when it comes to the best decisions for your child, involve a mediator.
A mediator will work with both parents and the child to figure out the best course of action. They will be an unbiased third party who can help you reach an agreement on every aspect of your parenting plan. A mediator isn’t looking to litigate or win for either side, they’re trying to reach a peaceful and mutually agreed-upon solution.
At the end of the day, both parents care about their children. It should be the goal of everyone involved to come together and create an environment in both homes that is consistent, safe, and loving. A long distance parenting plan is the perfect solution for co-parents who live far away from each other but still want to create that environment for their children.
For more information on how you can create a mutually beneficial relationship with your co-parent, read more about our co-parenting tools.
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