By Robert M. Going, Jr., Attorney
Every parent wants to be close to their child and spend as much time with them as possible. But sometimes, life doesn’t always work out that way. Separation or divorce can make things more challenging by creating long-distance parenting situations.
For parents who have to develop long-distance custody arrangements, being aware of a few key factors can ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible for the parties involved.
First, it’s essential to understand that Pennsylvania child custody laws prioritize the child’s interests. Also, the courts usually favor arrangements where the child can maintain a relationship with both parents.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the custody agreement will be equally balanced. Instead, most agreements are developed based on a range of factors. When developing a long-distance custody arrangement, consider all the factors that may impact the child’s well-being and happiness. Some of the critical aspects to keep in mind include the following:
The Child’s Age
This is a crucial factor in determining the agreement. Younger children may need more frequent contact with both parents, while older children may prefer extended periods with one parent to avoid disrupting their school or extracurricular schedules. The child’s age and developmental needs should be evaluated carefully.
Handoffs are often a stressful time for parents and children. That’s why the frequency of handoffs may make or break a long-distance custody arrangement. While frequent handoffs are usually a reality for parents who live close to each other, for long-distance parenting, fewer handoffs are possible.
For long-distance parents, it makes sense to try to extend visitation periods. After all, each handoff will also include travel time. While each family is different, longer distances often translate into longer visitation periods. For example, if a child doesn’t live with one parent weekly or even monthly, they may get to spend holidays or summers with them.
Regular routines are vital for school-aged children. That’s why long-distance travel during the school year is usually discouraged. In long-distance custody arrangements, parents may consider adjusting visitation schedules during school breaks to allow more time with the non-custodial parent.
Friends and Social Life
Split custody can affect a child’s social life. Some children’s friends are centered around one residence, while others form friendships with children near each home. Such friendships and participation in social activities must be considered when creating a long-distance custody agreement.
Extracurricular Activities in Custody Agreements
Extracurricular activities are a big part of any child’s development. They help promote valuable life skills and increase social skills. Custody agreements should leave ample room for children to pursue outside interests. For parents, this can sometimes require revisiting custody agreements to accommodate after-school practices and weekend events.
Custody Schedules for Long-Distance Parents
When parents live far apart, it’s impossible to split time evenly. But that doesn’t mean a child can’t spend plenty of time with each caregiver.
Some custody agreements work well for long-distance parents. The Majority Weekend Schedule allows the child to live with one parent near their school during the week and visit the other parent on most weekends.
When parents live very far apart, some rely on a Summers Only Schedule. As the name implies, in this agreement, the parent that lives closer to the child’s school assumes full-time custody during the school year, but the other parent gets primary custody during the summer months. In some cases, the second parent can also get custody during school breaks, such as Spring Break or Christmas Break.
No matter which agreement is chosen, open communication is the secret to making any long-distance custody arrangement work. Encouraging time with the absent parent via phone calls or video chats helps ease homesickness (for the parent and the child). Working together, parents can make it easier to create a custody agreement that allows the child to maintain a strong relationship with both parents, even from a distance.
Contact Going and Plank to Discuss Child Custody Agreements
The Law Offices of Going and Plank have helped Lancaster County families for more than sixty years. We work to provide a low-stress environment to help families find the best legal solutions. Our legal team can help evaluate options, negotiate terms, and create an agreement that meets your family’s unique needs. Contact us to get started.
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