What happens in custody cases when parents live far apart?

Date: May 21, 2015

There may be some cases where separated parents will no longer be living in close proximity to one another. In fact, parents may be living in different towns, states or countries.

In most situations, having both parents residing considerable distances apart would make it impracticable for those parents to have equal shared care of the children. Normally, in such situations the children will live with one parent and spend some time, as agreed or ordered by the Court, with the other parent. In most cases, this will enable the children to settle in their homes and schools and establish strong friendships.

It is in the best interests of a child to maintain a relationship with both parents following separation, as long as it does not expose him/her to a risk of psychological or physical harm.

This is why the parents are encouraged to reach an amicable agreement with respect to children's living arrangements based on what is best for their child's development and practicable in the circumstances. Such an agreement can be recorded in a form of a Parenting Plan.

Making a Parenting Plan does not require the consent of the Courts. However, it is advisable that the Parenting Plan be in writing and signed by the parents, in order to have more weight in Court if the parents ever end up there.

Children's living arrangements normally form a major part of a Parenting Plan drawn up between the parents. If the parents cannot have equal shared care of the children because of distance, it might be necessary for the child to live with one of the parents and spend time with the other on weekends, holidays and special occasions.

Depending on the distance, one parent may be effectively acting as a sole caregiver for much of the year, and child support arrangements might need to be considered to help cover the costs of raising a child without support from another parent.

Moving town, state or country with children after a separation is referred to in family law as "relocation". Such a move may impact on the time the child spends with one of the parents. If that parent opposes such a move, he/she can apply to Court for orders that the child stay with them, instead of moving with the other parent, or the other parent be prevented from relocating. The Court will consider all the facts of each case and make orders that reflect the best interests of the child.

It is always advisable to try to amicably resolve relocation issues with the child's other parent first. Through mediation, parents can agree on revisions to the Parenting Plan, taking into account new residence arrangements. In many cases, this measure is preferable to seeking Court orders, which should be a last resort in parenting disputes.

However, seeking legal advice can be a good way to ensure that no crucial issues are overlooked and the Parenting Plan covers all the aspects of the child's living arrangements relevant in each particular case, to minimise, as much as possible, the risk of the parenting dispute deteriorating into legal proceedings.

For more information about child custody agreements and coming up with a fair parenting plan, contact a family lawyer at Craddock Murray Neumann.