It has become increasingly common that children don’t share a home city or even a home state with one of their parents. Working out parenting arrangements under those circumstances can be a daunting task for families to face.

This is a case where the courts have been responsive to a common situation. In Ohio, many domestic relations courts have developed a standard set of long-distance parenting time guidelines.

If long-distance parenting time is going to be a concern in your divorce or in a juvenile court case between unmarried parents, look for guidelines or a schedule on the court’s website; or call to ask for a copy.

What’s the usual plan?

The Ohio courts I am familiar with use fairly typical guidelines. First, the court defines what ‘long-distance’ means: 150 miles or more. Second, the court distinguishes between the parents: ‘residential parent’ is the one whose home is the primary home of the children; the ‘non-residential parent’ is the one the kids travel to stay with or who comes to see the kids in their home city. Some also refer to the ‘local parent’ and the ‘away parent.’    

As you might suspect, the major part of the plan addresses the division of parenting time, usually in terms similar to these:

  • Ÿ  summer parenting time: The plan specifies a certain number of weeks for the non-residential parent, depending on child’s age; includes deadlines for    residential parent to notify about school ending/starting dates and non-residential parent about selected weeks; many courts recommend different schedules, depending on the children’s age
  • Ÿ  holiday parenting time: Usually, detailed plans for alternating years so that in the course of two years, the parents share holidays equally; for older children, this includes school breaks.
  • Ÿ  weekend parenting time: Usually recommended once a month when one-way travel time is somewhere near three hours.
  • Ÿ  telephone calls: Recommended for non-residential parent at least twice weekly and the same for residential parent when the child is away.
  • Ÿ  vacations and travel away from home: Requirement that the parent traveling with the children notify the other parent in writing and give full itinerary and contact numbers.

Beyond these guidelines, most plans require that the away parent has full access to kids’ school/day care, medical and student activities records and that each parent keep the other current on their residential address and telephone number.

What’s good about these long-distance parenting plans?

There are three good things about these plans. First, because they are based on the court’s experience with thousands of cases, the standard long-distance plans identify most common concerns and issues that tend to arise and propose resolutions that have worked for many families. They’re practical guidelines.

Second, the court’s plan is a template. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You will find that many responsibility and timing questions are already reasonably addressed.

Third, the long-distance parenting schedule is not inflexible. When you have special circumstances, you can adopt most of the court’s plan, focusing only on working with legal counsel to find solutions for your unique scheduling challenges or child-specific needs.

What do you need to do?

Most courts encourage parties to treat their plan as a set of guidelines for how to make sure kids have frequent and consistent contact with both parents. That’s the standard courts expect most individualized plans to meet: frequent, consistent time with each parent.

An area where courts prefer not to standardize long-distance parenting schedules is with children under age 4. Intellectual and emotional development, attachment to each parent, and sibling relationships are extremely important. The court is more apt to require parents to agree in writing on a detailed plan or, if there is no agreement, be satisfied to follow one ordered by the court.

One of the other areas parents have to work out is travel, especially when the local and away parents are quite far away from each other. What mode of transportation? Who accompanies young children? How is the expense divided? In this area, again, the court will decide if parents cannot.

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