By: Alphonse F. Provinziano, Esq.
When one parent requests permission from the court to move away with the child, the stay behind parent may feel helpless, as if the move will negatively impact his or her relationship with the child. A solid parenting plan may help mitigate that concern by putting into place legal requirements which the move away parent must abide by to ensure the stay behind parent gets adequate time and communication with the child. But, what does such a parenting plan look like, and what factors are considered when creating such a plan?
What to Consider When Making a Parenting Plan
Many factors of a strong parenting plan are centered around maintaining a relationship between the stay behind parent and the child. Just like parenting plans that are created for families that live near each other, parenting plans related to a move away case always consider the child’s best interests above all else. The best interests of the child may override the desires of the stay behind parent. For example, the stay behind parent may feel that it’s fair for the child to spend every holiday with him or her, since the child has moved away. But, the court may recognize the rights of the child to spend holidays with the move away parent as well.
In addition to how holidays will be handled, any parenting plan (move away or not) should also include details about which parent pays for what, how to handle schedule changes, the child’s extracurricular activities, ongoing communication between the parent and child, and where the child will keep his or her belongings. Additional standard considerations include childcare arrangements, day-to-day living arrangements, education, religion, extended family, and how disputes will be handled.
Specific to move away cases, special considerations are included in move away parenting plans that aren’t necessarily as pressing or relevant in parenting plans of families that live near one another. Special considerations include the following:
- Will the stay behind parent travel to visit the child, or will the child travel to visit the stay behind parent?
- How will the child travel between parents (airplane, train, bus)?
- Who will pay for the travel?
- How will medical emergencies be handled when the child is with the stay behind parent?
- If the child is ill, how will scheduled trips be impacted?
Prior to engaging in the process of creating a parenting plan, it is important to address as many of these considerations as possible. Ironing out specifics ahead of time saves time and money during the parenting plan process.
Can You Settle the Case or Not?
If parents are capable of reaching a reasonable parenting plan outside of court, the court will likely accept it. Even parents who are cooperative with one another need a parenting plan, especially in move away cases. A parenting plan is practical because it provides a clear framework that holds each parent accountable.
It is in everyone’s best interests to settle the move away case and related parenting plan efficiently and cooperatively, but it isn’t always possible. Emotions can run high and get in the way, and that can be costly. Parents who are unable to settle the case and agree to terms on their own often end up involving the court, which then takes the lead, giving the parents less control. However, it’s possible to avoid formal court proceedings by taking advantage of mediation to reach a settlement agreement.
Can You Reach a Settlement Agreement?
Even if parents are not on great terms with one another, it is possible to reach a settlement agreement without the cost of drawn out court proceedings. Parents may engage in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in an effort to avoid court intervention in a move away case. ADR will not work in every situation, but may be advantageous when there is minimal conflict between parents, they are willing to work together, and there is a desire to limit the amount of information about their case placed into the public record.
Such mediation efforts involve a multi-step process. The timeframe for completion of a move away parenting plan made via ADR will vary depending on factors, such as the number and complexity of issues, and the commitment level of the parents. The main steps in the mediation process include:
- Initial meeting with a mediator
- Identification of issues
- Discussion of solutions
- Preparation of parenting plan
Preparation for the meetings saves time and money. Heading into each meeting with a list of prepared questions and concerns helps streamline meetings and makes the time spent more efficient. Mental and emotional preparation are just as important. Put emotions aside and focus on what is in the child’s best interests.
What Factors are Considered in Custody Arrangements?
Custody arrangements look different depending on the child’s age, and courts view parental involvement differently than in the past. For example, courts used to believe that a baby needs more time with the mother than the father because of bonding and feeding issues. That belief has changed, shifting to granting fathers more time when calculating custody arrangements.
Additionally, custody arrangements may be more flexible with adolescent children who may not be engaged in as many extracurricular activities, such as sports. Custody arrangements may be less flexible for older children who participate in sports, have part-time jobs, or other responsibilities.
Such factors must be considered when drafting a parenting plan in a move away case. Custody arrangements considered appropriate today will change as the child grows.
The Benefits of Cooperation
In cases where parents simply cannot communicate effectively, families may benefit from court intervention. The longer a case is drawn out, the more time consuming it becomes, and the more money it costs.
Cooperation in allowing a move away has additional perks besides saving time and money. For instance, a more cooperative parent who focuses on the child’s best interests may receive additional time, either via the other parent more readily agreeing, or through court intervention. The more the parents focus on the child’s best interests and cooperating with one another, the better the outcome.
Leveraging Technology to Stay in Contact
Consistent communication with the stay behind parent is a critical component of a parenting plan, especially in a move away case. Availability of communication technology and social media allows parents and children to see and speak with one another from nearly anywhere.
Social media platforms, including Skype, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Apple’s FaceTime offer video calling services that allow parents and children to stay in touch. Including the use of such technology in a parenting plan ensures the relationship between the stay behind parent and child endures through the distance.
Travel Logistics in a Move Away Parenting Plan
A child’s age plays an important role in determining the logistics regarding visitation. For example, the younger a child is, the less likely it is that child will be able to fly alone. While many airlines offer unaccompanied minor services, a fee applies, and each airline has age limit requirements. Delta Airlines, for example, requires children aged 5-14 to participate in their Unaccompanied Minor (UNMR) program (source). Other airlines, such as Southwest Airlines, do not offer unaccompanied minor service on international flights (source).
The cost associated with accompanying a minor child on a flight, or paying for the airline to monitor the child, may make it cost prohibitive for the child to fly. Additional considerations, such as a child’s special needs, must be calculated into the decision. When drafting a parenting plan in a move away case, consider factors of age, distance, airline restrictions, special needs, and cost when deciding whether the child will fly to the stay behind parent, or the stay behind parent will fly to the child.
A Parenting Plan Helps to Minimize Disruption
When one parent requests to move away with the child, there is no way to completely avoid disruption of the child’s life, or the child’s relationship with the stay behind parent. However, preparing a parenting plan focused on the child’s best interests ensures that the disruption is as minimal as possible, and the rights of the stay behind parent are ensured.
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