Parenting Across the Miles

When people with young children divorce, they create a schedule of parenting time for each parent with the children.  They typically look at what their parenting schedule has looked like while the family was intact and what they want it to look like once they are living in two separate households.

In many instances, at the time of divorce, parents are committed to living in close proximity to each other, be it in the same town or in neighboring towns.  They want to remain involved in their children’s lives and want their children’s lives to be disrupted as little as possible.

Then, a parent meets a new significant other (S.O.) who lives farther away.  The parent is torn between the love for the new person and the love for the children.  Wanting to have it all, the parent looks to move to a point that is close enough in proximity to make the new S.O. happy, while also being not so far away as to make the children or the former spouse unhappy.

That is when the trouble begins.

The former spouse complains about the move and refuses to drive the children any further than before because “It was your choice to move.”

The S.O. believes that the former spouse is completely unreasonable and unjustified in this position.

The former spouse doesn’t like the S.O., thinks the S.O. is a bad influence, and doesn’t want the S.O. spending so much time around the children.

The S.O. doesn’t like the former spouse and thinks the former spouse is a bad influence on the children.

The parent who remains in the same location believes that all of the children’s activities should center around that same location.

The parent who moved only realizes after the move how much commuting is involved in living half an hour or more away.

The parent who moved demands to exercise the exact same parenting time as before, even if it is causing a problem for the children, because the parent doesn’t want to lose time.

In the alternative, the parent who moved unilaterally stops taking the children on certain days, leaving the other parent scrambling.

The focus is on the needs of the parents, and not on the needs of the children.  The focus must shift back to the needs of the children if you want to be successful with respect to co-parenting.

Success in co-parenting isn’t measured by whether a child likes you best or whether you won the argument.  It’s measured by the extent to which you support your children in being well-adjusted, emotionally and physically healthy individuals.

You may have thought that once the divorce was over, you were done with having to make big decisions (and have big arguments) with the other parent.  The truth is that while divorce provides an end date to your marriage, it does not provide an end date to your co-parenting.

The sad truth is that ten years after divorce, a study found that one-half of women and one-third of men were still intensely angry at their former spouses.  Even if you’re not talking to the other parent, that parent is taking up a lot of space in your head, and none of it is good.

If a parent is moving, and you can’t work out together what to do in terms of revising the parent-child contact schedule and transportation for contact, it’s time to come back to mediation, where you can have a difficult conversation and be supported in the process.

In mediation, you can discuss what is the best contact schedule going forward.  You can also discuss how to handle transportation responsibilities.

The parent who stayed may be burdened with more transportation responsibilities, not only to exchange the children for parent-child contact, but also for extracurricular activities that the other parent used to handle.

The parent who stayed may see child support reduced, as the other parent has increased transportation expenses associated with exercising parenting time with the children.

The parent who stayed may also end up with more time with the children, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

In the alternative, all of this might be reversed.  It could be that the children have a stronger bond with the moving parent and would prefer to move with that parent.  Then, it could be that the moving parent got more time with the children, got more transportation responsibilities, and also got child support for the first time.

In mediation, you can explore how best to support your children’s connections in each community.  Children need to be able to have access to friends and supports in each community.  A parent who lives in a community where the children have no connections is being set up for failure.

If you are the parent who stayed, you may be OK with the moving parent being set up for failure.  After all, that person moved.

Are you OK with your children being set up for failure?  Children of divorce typically rely more on their friends for emotional support than they do on their parents.  They need access to friends and supports in each community.  Also, they want the love and support of both of their parents, whatever their parents’ imperfections might be.

If you have the children going to school in one community, consider having the children go to summer camp or other recreational activities in the other community.  Find a way for the children to have friends in both communities.

The parent who moves will have to work harder to help the children make inroads into the new community.  You can’t just count on your children to make friends on their own at school if they aren’t going to school in your area.  You have to look for opportunities that will allow your children to make connections.

At the same time, the parent who moves will have to work harder to stay connected with the children’s school and extracurricular activities and friends in the first community if the children are still going to school there.

Co-parenting across the miles is difficult work.  Mediation can help to get you on the right track again.