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Considering Distance in Your Parenting Plan


In many states, long-distance coparenting is outlined in the law. States officially designate certain miles apart. For instance, some states consider 50 miles apart long-distance, and others go as high as 100 miles.

California is more concerned with percentages. It gives each parent a certain percentage of custody, like 60/40 or 75/25. Distance plays a major role in how these percentages are determined. If parents are far apart, they can’t share equal custody.

When divorcing spouses can negotiate, they can make their own choices about property division, support, and child custody. When making custody decisions, they must create a parenting plan and submit it to the court. It’s best to create this plan along with the help of a legal professional, such as a mediator. They can help make sure you don’t miss important details.

When creating this parenting plan, you must decide the percentage of custody. There are several considerations when deciding on these numbers. Chief among them is the distance between parents. Here are some ways distance affects the percentage of child custody in California.

The 20-Mile Rule

Although there is no officialized number of miles, California courts generally consider 20 miles or more “long-distance parenting.” It seems like a small distance, but when you consider California’s percentage system, it makes sense.

Splitting a pure, 50/50 custody is difficult at the best of times. Unless parents live right next door to one another, simply making the numbers work is a chore. There are 52 weeks in a year, which you can split evenly. However, years also contain 365 days, which cannot be divided into halves. To achieve equality, parents must get creative. Alternating weeks might work, but realistically, plans can easily change. Some may try trading the kids during the week, but this will likely be hard on everyone.

Take the difficulty described above, now add 20 miles of distance. Access is the biggest problem distance creates. Once you start adding miles between parents, access to the child’s basic needs becomes an issue.

Access to Schooling

Regardless of distance, think about how difficult it can be to get the kids to school. It’s not always as easy as putting them on a bus. With multiple kids of varying ages, you may have one who can take the bus, but the other two need car rides to two separate locations. Even when parents are close, managing this schedule can be a nightmare. One parent goes to work two hours earlier than the other. Maybe the other works from home, but their job is demanding, and taking time to drop off kids throws off their day.

Distance makes these problems worse, if not impossible. Imagine living further from the kids’ respective schools and trying to share a greater percentage of custody. The busses don’t run out there, so you have to drive the kids. This also means picking them up and bringing them back. Will that be possible with your schedule? Would it simply be easier to take the kids on weekends only? These are the questions you must ask when deciding on your percentage of custody.

Access to Healthcare

If your kids are mostly healthy, this may be a non-issue. Doctor visits are semi-annual, and they can probably be handled by whoever has the kids.

However, what if you have a child with special needs or a chronic illness? Now distance becomes a bigger issue. Both parents need easy access to quality health facilities. Even as a weekend parent, you need the ability to deal with problems should they arise.

Caring for special needs and chronic illnesses doesn’t stop at medical buildings. When you have custody of the child, your home must be ready for them. You may need things like prescription refills, medical and hygiene supplies, disabled-friendly doors and cupboards, etc. Distance can affect your ability to get these refills and supplies for your child.

Distance becomes an issue for mental disorders as well. Any child will have a difficult time adjusting to moving between homes. Now consider how difficult this adjustment is for an autistic child. In order to function, these kids often become heavily reliant on their routine. Simply having one adult missing can throw their world into chaos. Adding shuffling them from place to place may be completely overwhelming for them, and can cause them genuine distress.

When thinking about distance and custody, keep the wellbeing of your child first in your mind. For everyone’s benefit, it may be necessary to see them very little for a while. Introducing a new schedule may take more time than you want. Little by little, you can acclimate them to the new dynamic. Once both you and they are prepared to move forward, you can adjust your percentage of custody accordingly.

Access to the Kids Themselves

Remember that in all decisions regarding the kids – from custody to support – your number one concern is the child’s best interests. It bears repeating, sharing custody is not easy on them. Small children, in particular, may have a difficult time with frequent travel. You must ask yourself how distance restricts your access to them, and you must consider how it affects them.

As parents, we also tend to forget that children are autonomous people with lives of their own. Children want more freedom and independence as they age. If you force them to travel a long distance against their will, you could cause a lot of strife. They have friends, activities, a church group, and so on. Of course, you can’t be expected to cut them off completely, and they don’t want you to. However, you must consider them and their needs above your own, especially when you are a long-distance parent.

Here's the good news: Visitation counts as part of your custody, and electronic communications count as visits. You can build regularly scheduled phone calls, face chats, and so on into your parenting plan. When added to the plan, these communications become official. They cannot be blocked by your spouse. Dedicating a couple of hours or so a week to these calls shouldn’t be too burdensome on you or the kids. You can keep up with them and their lives, and be ready to see them when it’s your time.

We can help you create a parenting plan. If necessary, we can also help you fight for your custody rights in court. Contact us today for a free consultation. Our number is (559) 900-1263, and you can also reach us online.

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