In this globalised world, it is becoming increasingly common for separated parents to live many hundreds of miles apart, be it in the same country or the other side of the world.
This throws up a number of challenges for both parents and the child/children, some of which are more obvious than others. As family solicitors, we often advise clients about how to manage these distances so that the parent with whom the child does not live day to day can maintain a close and meaningful relationship with the child/children.
There is no one parenting plan which is going to apply to all situations and therefore our advice will always be dependent upon the circumstances of the individual case. Below I set out a list of top tips to think about if you are faced with a long distance parenting situation.
- Think creatively about how to facilitate indirect contact. Technology today allows people to keep in touch in many different ways so think about this widely. We have many clients who stay in contact with children via Facetime and/or Skype in addition to traditional telephone calls. The former allows the child and parent to see each other. These facilities also tend to be low cost alternatives to international telephone calls.
- Consider age appropriate forms of communication. Agreeing that a toddler should speak with a parent for an hour at a time is likely to be unrealistic given the child’s attention span at that age. For young children “little and often” may be the most suitable approach.
- Be realistic about the frequency of indirect contact. A teenager with a busy schedule of extra-curricular activities may not be able to speak three times a week without disrupting this schedule. If one parent is insistent that they should speak and forgo a particular activity the child may start to resent the contact rather than look forward to it. In this scenario introducing a less intrusive form of contact, such as an instant messenger service, may be less disruptive while still maintaining regular contact. The appropriateness of this will clearly depend on the child’s age.
- The parent with whom the child does not live is likely to only see the child during school holidays if there are very long international distances involved. It is best for plans to be made early so that the child knows in good time exactly where they will be for the holiday (and this will also usually reduce the cost of travel for the parents). This will offer the child certainty and allow them to make plans with friends.
- Thought should be given to how the child will travel and whether they are old enough to travel independently. If air travel is necessary, it is always best to check what age a child can travel as an unaccompanied minor and the requirements of the individual airline. Even if a child will be accepted as an unaccompanied minor, it is important to consider how the child will get on travelling on their own. For example, if it is their first time on a plane it might be best for one parent to accompany them on their first trip/s.
- If a parent does travel with the child, consider who will pay the parent’s travel costs, and if the parent ends up staying for part or all of the trip, who will pay the accommodation costs. The costs of the child’s travel costs should also be agreed. It is best to get this agreed well in advance. Some parents have agreements like this recorded in a parenting plan at the time of separation.
- When agreeing arrangements for travel, think about what is in the child’s best interests. While the parent with whom the child does not normally live may want to extend the time they have with the child for all the right intentions, the travel will be tiring for the child. Before the start of a new term it is likely to be in the child’s best interest to have a couple of days back at their term time home so that they can settle into their usual pattern, catch up with friends and get some rest before the busy term starts.
- It is understandable that the parent who does not see the child everyday may want to plan a jam packed schedule for the child, especially where extended family have not seen the child for some time. It is important, however, to bear in mind that the child may want to rest during holidays or weekends, after a busy time at school. Build in some time for this. Also make time for the child to complete any homework they may have so that this does become a worry for them.
The above is not an exclusive list and some parents may easily be able to agree arrangements as they go along rather than having a very prescriptive arrangement agreed at the time of separation. The above is a list of top tips which separated parents living long distances apart may want to think about.
If you have any further questions on this topic please do get in touch.