Across the Universe

Moving on, moving out. You and your partner are separating, and suddenly the number of decisions you need to make skyrockets. You need your own car, your own bank account, your own tax accountant. Choosing a place to stay is likely going to be first on your list. You may first choose somewhere temporary- your friend’s couch or mom and dad’s basement. Soon though, you’ll have to find and establish your own habitat, and as with most things, custody adds a layer of complexity to this decision. Whether you are newly separated, been apart forever, or have never merged, living apart from your child’s other parent is something you should consider when choosing where to live.

Maybe you live in a small town and feel crowded by all of the people who knew you as a couple and need to escape the microscope. Or maybe you live in the city, but can only find affordable housing on the other side, which creates a lengthy drive. Regardless of where you live in relation to your child’s other parent, location and relative distance between parties is something a court is going to consider when drawing up a custody schedule. The concept is simple- nobody wants to spend multiple hours making a custody exchange multiple times a week. Sometimes frequent exchanges are not feasible.

There are very clear advantages to living near the other parent, yet no one will fault you if you don’t. Close proximity makes things easy in terms of custody schedules. It allows for greater flexibility, more frequent exchanges, easier (in theory) co-parenting, and enables both parents to be involved with extracurricular activities. These things aren’t impossible if the parents live further apart, but they may require more planning and greater cooperation.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of parents who live far from each other. Assuming the parties are fairly equal with each other in terms of stability and ability to provide a loving and supportive environment, distance and location of the parents will probably be the greatest contributing factor to your custody schedule. If you lived within a few miles of each other, a standard 5-3-3-5 schedule would have sufficed, but given that exchanges must occur over 3 hours away, the standard 5-3-3-5 may not work for you. This poses significant difficulty when the child is of school-age. When the parents live in different school districts, far apart, the court is likely going to have to choose one of the parents to have primary custody as a week on, week off schedule is also unlikely to run smoothly without interfering with school or activities.

The court will evaluate the other factors when making this determination, however, it is likely that if a child is enrolled in school district “a” and has only been at that school since kindergarten, barring other reasons that would affect the custody determination, it is unlikely that the court will force the child to relocate to school district “b”, particularly if all other factors are equal. I mention this because many clients do not realize that moving away is going to influence their custody determinations. This is not to say it is impossible or not worth the time to try to gain custody, but it is something to consider when choosing a new place to live, particularly if you are moving several hours away.

Proximity of the parties sets the tone for the rest of the custody determination in some ways. In looking at some of the other factors, a court official usually has a potential schedule in mind. For instance, they may poke deeper to see just how contentious the parties’ relationship is when they are considering something like a 5-3-3-5 or similar schedule with frequent exchanges. If the parties live more than 3 or 4 hours away from each other, they will probably focus on the case more comparatively, looking for more definite distinctions, such as “who is really more likely to _________”, rather than “can they both _______”. Always remember that the court is trying to determine what is best for the child.

Now let’s say you moved really far away and cannot do a schedule every other week. Or every two weeks. Don’t worry, there are plenty of solutions for you to be an active parent to your child and to have plenty of opportunities to be a part of their lives. First off, we live in a day and age where cell phones are scarily close to needing to be surgically removed from our hands. Communication is easier than ever, and there are endless creative ways to spend quality time with your children thanks to technology. A common arrangement is to have the parent with primary custody to have the child during the school year with the secondary parent enjoying custody over summer, winter, and miscellaneous holiday breaks. If that still isn’t enough, I’ve seen custody schedules that grant the secondary parent opportunities to visit the child during weekends, the caveat being that it occurs where the child primarily resides.

Regardless of the situation, you still have the opportunity to be an important facet in your child’s life, even if you have moved halfway across the country. Sure, it is simpler to live 5 minutes away, but that isn’t always possible. Proximity may play a huge role in determining your custody schedule, but there are plenty of creative ways to keep you just as connected and involved in your child’s life as if you really were just 5 minutes away.

This article was written by writer and content strategist, K. Gleason.

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