Given the choice, most parents don’t want to move away from their children during or after a divorce. However, when an individual has to choose between relocating and losing a job or caring for an ill parent, a move may be unavoidable. In these instances, there are things you can do to help stay connected with your children if you are facing an interstate custody arrangement.
Ideally, you and your partner will both be focused on what’s best for your children, and you will work together to manage interstate custody or other situations where one of you is living far from a child.
Depending on the child’s age, you could set up a nanny cam in a young child’s room so that the out of area parent can visually check in on a child via a laptop. This is not to spy on what your ex is doing, but rather a way to feel more connected to your infant or toddler. This is an arrangement that can be negotiated during mediation or ordered by a judge in a litigated divorce.
With older children, it can be useful to schedule regular phone chats and/or video chats with Skype or FaceTime. You can also provide a child with a cell phone that has video chat capabilities. This can be very comforting for a child to know that you are accessible at the touch of a button. You may also want to consider setting up video chat with “white board” capabilities (a technology which allows you to write in real time on a virtual white board while chatting) so that you can help a child with homework or play games together. Many age appropriate video games have multi-player capability, which, when coupled with a head-set, would allow a parent to play games with their child while chatting with them.
Video chat can also allow an out of state parent to participate in things like teacher conferences or other meetings/events concerning a child if it is not possible to arrange in-person meetings.
Another important aspect of interstate custody is face to face visits. Interstate visits are age-dependent. Young children can’t fly, so the out-of-area parent will need to come into town and stay with relatives or rent a place where they can visit with a child. For children, it can be helpful if this visiting location is kept consistent, but this is not always possible due to financial impacts.
Many couples opt to use summer vacations or school breaks to allow the out-of-state parent to spend a larger block of time with a child. In these cases, the “home” parent may wish to use video chats and other strategies outlined above to maintain their ongoing contact with their children.
Another issue which sometimes gets discussed in mediation is the idea of keeping up relationships with grandparents and other relatives of the out-of-state parent, who may live in proximity to the child. It can be very beneficial to the child to maintain contact with relatives on both sides of the family, and cooperation by the in-state parent may be necessary to make this happen post-divorce.
One final procedural point regarding interstate custody—if you are going this route, you will want to have some kind of document filed with the court outlining your agreement. Even if you and your partner are on good terms and want to handle things informally, it is important that this kind of custody arrangement be legally documented. The reason for this is that if the child ends up spending more than six months with an out-of-state parent prior to the filing of a divorce petition, then that state will have jurisdiction over the child as well as the authority to issue orders regarding custody. For example, if a child spends seven months with her mother in Arkansas prior to the filing of a dissolution petition in California, then Arkansas will be the child’s “home state” and California will be unable to make custody orders.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding interstate child custody, please give us a call. We can help you review options and work out a strategy to make sure your interests, and the interests of your children are represented and protected during a divorce.