When parents are no longer together, living far away from a child’s other parent can make parenting time schedules extremely complicated. Between arranging for travel back and forth as well as figuring out logistics, it can be complex to try and come up with an adequate schedule for the children and their other parent. There are many factors that contribute to the design of long-distance parenting plans, in particular, how far away the parents live from each other. If it is a few hours by car, that is a different situation than someone who is a plane ride away, halfway across the country, and the schedules are likely to be different depending on how long the transportation will take and the cost. Another factor depends on how involved the parent living far away from the children is in the children’s lives. This can be particularly important when the cause of the children living so far away from one parent is due to the other parent seeking to relocate.
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Long-Distance Parenting Schedules in a Relocation Case
When one parent seeks to relocate their child or children away from the other parent, the Court will consider a variety of factors. One of the most important factors is to try and award the same or substantially the same amount of parenting time to the parent who will be living further away from the children, as they had when the children lived nearby. This is going to depend on how close the relationship is between the child(ren) and the non-relocating parent and how much of the parenting time schedule was exercised. It is not uncommon when you have two very involved parents, and someone seeks to relocate, to see a schedule where the parent who will end up living far away from the children will have the majority of the summer parenting time to make up for the lack of parenting time during the school year. This parent may also have more of breaks from school (winter break, spring break, fall break). This parent may have the option of having parenting time as well, for weekends, if they want to visit the children in their new city. Sometimes a parent may have the “option” of one weekend per month if they travel to where the children are, they just have to give substantial notice (30-45 days prior, etc.)
Parenting Time Schedules In Different States Without a Relocation
Cases where the parents have lived in separate states, or further away from each other, for some time, may look a bit different than a schedule where one parent seeks to relocate. Usually, if the parties are living quite far away from one another, the parent who lives away from the children doesn’t have as much parenting time as a parent who is facing their children relocating. The status quo for the twenty-four (24) months prior to filing is usually a good indication of what the current “status quo” was for those two years before the proceedings began.
In these scenarios, it is not uncommon to give the parent who lives further away from the child a block of parenting time during the summer and some holiday weekends, half of their school breaks, etc. However, there isn’t regular and consistent parenting time that needs to be “made up” by drafting this schedule, so there isn’t typically a requirement to give that parent a very substantial amount of summer. If the parent never exercised it before, it is harder to ask for it now, unless other factors contribute to why it would be in the minor children’s best interests to have this substantial amount of time. But, no one is trying to “make up” for lost time when the parents lived apart to begin with, so the schedule might be less stringent than a child relocation schedule.
Electronic Parenting Time
The Courts in Illinois have made it clear that electronic parenting time (i.e. video calls, such as FaceTime or Zoom, etc.) do not replace regular, in-person parenting time and cannot be a substitute for the same. But, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be included in a “long-distance” parenting plan. It is important for parents to have telephone and video call access to their children during periods of non-parenting time to stay in touch and maintain their close relationship. Putting a schedule for phone calls into a parenting time is something that should always be addressed when there will be a “long distance” schedule, even if this time does not replace or replicate face-to-face parenting time. Depending on the age of the children and the resources of the parties, the parties may even consider giving the child(ren) their own device to contact the other parent, such as an old cell phone with WIFI capability for FaceTime or video calls while at home on a WIFI network, or even a cell phone.