long distance custody
April 26, 2012 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way for parents to move far apart without hurting the kids?

I currently have joint custody, and an out-of-state boyfriend that I'd like to marry. I would love to provide my children with a two parent home life. He's looking for a job here but it really seems like a shot in the dark. I can't support us all on my job and have no better prospects but he could support us all on his current salary. Does anyone know a story about a parent who moved with the kids and made a long-distance parenting agreement work? Any cautionary tales?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
First thought off of the top of my head is that if you have joint custody, you really cannot make the decision, in a vacuum, to move your children. I'm pretty sure you need to come to an understanding with the children's father for that (your divorce agreement may vary).

As for your question....I've seen a long-distance parenting agreement work when the child (or children) spend long stretches of time (especially in the summer) with the "other" parent, who does not have primary custody after the move. Also, giving the child/children access to phone or skype the other parent so that they can communicate is very important (from what I have observed).
posted by PsuDab93 at 7:05 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

What does "out-of-state" mean in this case? Are we talking a two-hour drive or a three-hour plane ride? This will impact how often the kids see their other parent, eg. every other weekend vs summer and Christmas only etc.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:20 AM on April 26, 2012

As a kid in this situation, it really really sucked. A step-father can add a lot to a child's life but can't replace a known and loved father being there for important events/concerts/parent-teacher meetings...men aren't interchangeable. It also takes a lot for a man who is married to your mom to become a parent. It doesn't happen instantly.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:21 AM on April 26, 2012 [14 favorites]

I was a kid in this situation, and it sucked. Enormously. Even when my parents were on their best behavior about it. Don't prioritize your relationship with your boyfriend over your children's relationship with their father.
posted by amelioration at 7:24 AM on April 26, 2012 [20 favorites]

I don't think you can do this without hurting the kids, unless you are ridiculously wealthy and can pay for them to fly back and forth on a regular basis. (Speaking as a child of divorce myself, it's hard enough when parents live close together.)
posted by fullerenedream at 7:25 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

How old are your kids? How much time do they spend with their dad? Are their grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins nearby? What kind of area do you live in- urban, suburban, rural? And would you be moving to a similar one?

Your ex may fight you on this. Taking kids away from family, familiar surroundings, school, just to give them a two-parent home in which the second parent is a virtual stranger (I'm assuming this since he doesn't live near you and likely has not spent much time with your kids) is not going to cut it in court if your ex decides to go there.
posted by mareli at 7:31 AM on April 26, 2012

You should be willing to relinquish primary custody to your ex if you really want to make this move. If that doesn't seem like an acceptable parenting arrangement to you, then why should it be acceptable to force the relationship between your kids and their dad into the same shitty territory?
posted by SomeTrickPony at 7:52 AM on April 26, 2012 [21 favorites]

I have seen this work when one parent was not interested in frequent contact/visits and was relieved of all child support obligations. In both cases, the father was barely involved as a nearby parent and viewed the responsibility (especially financial) of young children as a burden. I hope your co-parent is not like this. What does your children and co-parent gain from this arrangement? I understand why you and your boyfriend want to be together, unfortunately your children's need most likely conflict.
posted by saucysault at 8:55 AM on April 26, 2012

No. Just no.
posted by txmon at 9:14 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

My parents divorced when I was just entering teenage, and the fact that they moved somewhat far apart was a bit of a blessing for me, because it gave a physical embodiment to my growing sense of alienation from them (which all teenagers feel). I literally left each of them, over and over, every few months, to go live with the other for a while. Made it much easier to disconnect and move out permanently when the time came and I was old enough. I was well practiced at it.

Read in this example what you like. I don't think it's the happy "home life" you're after.
posted by ead at 9:15 AM on April 26, 2012

I'm another person who was in this situation as a child, when my mom moved me 700 miles away from my dad. It was awful, and the move precipitated an estrangement from my father that lasts to this day. Also, before the estrangement, I had to deal with a lot of my father's anger toward my mother over this move. Now, as a parent myself, I really understand how he felt, and I could not imagine living far away from my child. I think it could only work if there is a lot of communication between the parents, and a willingness for cooperation and compromise that did not exist in my family.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:23 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This was my teenage years (one parent in NJ, one parent in VT). It was tough, both the day-to-day absence of a parent and spending every other weekend either driving hundreds of miles for a visit or clearing my whole calendar for the parents' visit.

If there's any way to keep local, I hope you try it.
posted by gerryblog at 9:52 AM on April 26, 2012

My partner's ex moved a five-hour-drive away with their young son and it has been very hard. In the present, the kid is too young to travel alone, so we have been going there to see him and due to the distance, it is not as often as we would want. It also costs money the could be used to enhance the kid's life in other ways. And it prevents the kid from seeing any of his paternal family where we live.

In the future, the kid should be able to come to us more. But he will have friends, activities and a life in that other city and I am not sure how he will feel about putting that on hold for a week or so at a time just to go see dad.

Do it if you have to,mug understand that it will be for your benefit and not as much for the kids.
posted by JoannaC at 10:15 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it could only work if there is a lot of communication between the parents, and a willingness for cooperation and compromise that did not exist in my family.

And enough money that the monetary cost of travel between homes isn't even something you have to think about.

Among other things, if you're struggling AT ALL with money, your kid WILL feel like s/he is costing you money every time they switch homes if you do so much as sigh at the cost of his/her ticket.

This seems like a terrible idea to me.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:37 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

My parents divorced when I was 13 and my mom moved 400 miles away. I saw her for a month or two in the summer and occasionally visited on holidays. It basically destroyed my relationship with her-- I felt like I had no mother throughout my teen years and now that she's moved back I have a very difficult time trusting or relating to her. Don't do it, wait until the kids are grown up.

Oh, and my sisters moved back and forth more than I did, and they went from being quiet, polite, straight A students to hanging out with drug users in garages and smoking cigarettes and pot. They might have rebelled anyway, but I think the constant moving really fucked up their sense of stability.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:52 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

My parents divorced when I was 12 and my parents lived half a world away for the first six months and then half a country away. It really sucked. They both did what they needed to do, but my life would have been a lot easier if they were closer and I could mitigate the fallout that was going on in their lives by being able to move easily back and forth between them.

That said, my dad lived near his family and that really was the best thing for him and my mom lived where she had some support and that was the best thing for her. And you can't always prioritize other people over what is best for you even if they are your kids. (I know people will disagree with that, but I personally don't believe that you have to subvert all your personal needs just because you're a parent.)

But if you do want to prioritize what is best for your kids over what is best for you, moving to a different state probably isn't it. It can work if you have a good relationship with them and your ex and you listen to what everyone wants out of the situation, it just won't be ideal.
posted by Kimberly at 12:09 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would suggest that, while nothing you do will prevent the kids from suffering (after all, they already have been, yes?), the most important thing you can do is make sure that any decisions like this -- decisions that impact them directly -- are done by you and your ex as a team, such that the kids can see you're both making the decisions together, unanimously*, and that you're taking the kids' feelings and needs into account (although not putting any responsibility whatsoever on them to make the decision or validate the decision.)

So, if I were you, I'd work hard to help your boyfriend find a job in your location...and if it doesn't happen right away, I'd ask him to keep trying. While he's trying, open a dialogue with your ex (who knows, perhaps he wants to move, too!) and let him know that this is something you're considering, but not committed to yet, and that you want to hear his thoughts on it before you take any more steps; that will make him much more receptive to keeping things polite and reasonable.

Does that mean you might move? Yes. Does that mean you might elect not to move, and you and your boyfriend will have to break up because he won't move either? Yes. Is there a single solution that minimizes the pain for your kids and for you? Yes...get your boyfriend a local job. So focus on that.
posted by davejay at 12:24 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

*unanimously doesn't necessary mean you both agree completely and without reservation; it means you both agree that the decision is the one you're going to make, even if compromise is happening on one or both sides.
posted by davejay at 12:25 PM on April 26, 2012

It was very painful spending summers only with my Dad 1200 miles away from my Mom. I wish he had sacrificed and stuck around.
posted by toastchee at 1:45 PM on April 26, 2012

My Dad did this when I was 15-18 - so not even that young, and it fucking sucked, and I hated it.

Firstly, I hardly got to see him - and when I did it was in the middle of nowhere where I had no friends, community etc, so all I had to do was see him, if you know what I mean. Which is pretty intense for a teenager.

Secondly, I felt that he had quite clearly put his needs and the needs of his new partner over me - which he totally had, of course. When you're a kid and you may already be feeling quite vulnerable this is not a good feeling to have, especially when it's so naked, and there was an implication that I should be happy about it - wtf?!

Thirdly, my Dad, of course, wanted to see me more as well, and this meant I had to endure regular bullshit suggestions about why I should move miles away from the community I grew up in, the friends I loved, the school I had been at my whole life, my only grandparent etc etc etc. And that this would, somehow, be "good" for me. It also meant lots of guilt trips when I was less than overjoyed at the seven hour bus trip to see him. To be fair, he tried to make holidays fun in his own way, but there was only so much he could do. I'm sure my lack of enthusiasm was hurtful to him, as well.

Fourthly, the fights over when and where I would go, and for how long, often left me feeling like little more than a chit - another assets for my parents to fight over in post-divorce proceedings.

I have a great relationship with my dad today, but I tell you OP, the behaviour of both my parents post-divorce in prioritising their own lives and needs over their kids - especially me as the youngest - is something I view as definitely not their finest hour. The divorce was very difficult for everyone, but I endured needless stress and hurt at an age where I lacked the ability to cope with those things as well as an adult, because they wanted to kickstart their new lives - but I felt like I was part of their old lives, and not a quiescent son that could transform so easily to match new houses, new partners, or process my own emotional distress at what was happening, and other things that happened to me at that age, quietly by myself. Of course, I had to, by and large, and it was very hard, and things happened to me that should not have happened.

It has indelibly shaped who I am today and my own behaviour in relationships and in life. Did it make me a better person? I dunno. Maybe. It sure fucking sucked when I was fifteen though.
posted by smoke at 4:59 PM on April 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

My cousins lived with their mom on the east coast during the school year and their dad on the west coast during the summer. It wasn't ideal for them, but their dad had a job that required near-constant international travel so I think they kind of recognized they wouldn't have seen him much no matter where he lived. The fact that he had the kids for only three months meant he really tried to dial back his travel schedule during those months and did lots of fun things with them. So in a way it was better than if he'd stayed near them since he was really, really cognizant of planning around summertime and making sure he was around for his quarter of custody.
posted by town of cats at 7:53 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think you can do this without hurting the kids, unless you are ridiculously wealthy and can pay for them to fly back and forth on a regular basis.

Even if this is the case, it's really not the same as being in the same town/state as your parent. Trust me.
posted by naoko at 8:29 PM on April 26, 2012

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