Need help figuring out child custody logistics across the border
November 26, 2014 10:34 PM   Subscribe

Long story short, my wife and I are separating and I may try to find work and live in the US (I'm currently in Canada and a Canadian citizen). I'm trying to hear from others who have shared custody of their children where their ex- lives in another country. My situation is across the US/Canada border but I'm interesting in hearing other experiences as well.

Both of my children (6, 2) were born in Canada and have Canadian citizenship. My so-to-be ex and I are splitting amicably and I'm hoping to figure out a way to maintain as much of a presence in their lives as possible while living across the border.

How have others worked out schedules (when the children stayed where), schools, day care, and other logistics? Am I fooling myself to think it might be possible to make this work?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think that now would be the best time to do this. Your children are so young and the separation is still fresh. Are you certain that you're not jumping into such a big decision because the separation has thrown you? I would wait at least a year or two before even considering this idea.

(Unless you would literally just be just across the border from each other, like an hour long drive or something. But I feel like that is unlikely)
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:40 AM on November 27, 2014 [9 favorites]

I was a child of the reverse -- my mother and I lived in the US, and my father moved to Canada when they split. Their visitation schedule only worked because they lived in major hubs. Every other weekend I would fly LGA > YYZ on Friday, YYZ > LGA on Sunday. (Your youngest child is not yet 5 so will not be able to fly to you without an adult, even travelling with an older sibling. many airlines will now also charge you a $150 fee for unaccompanied minors.)

This was fine until I was 14 or so and didn't want to miss out on weekends with my friends and opted to stay in New York. My dad would sometimes come down instead to have lunch with me or take me to dinner.

My parents alternated holidays: someone got Xmas, the other got Thanksgiving, and then the next year they swapped. Quite often when it was my dad's turn for Xmas we'd go away; this worked well because I didn't really know anyone in Toronto so going away tended to be more fun.

* * *

Anyway, like I said, this kind of old-school schedule was perfectly doable and worked for many years. I can't imagine doing anything more intense than this, and trying to actually split custody cross-border sounds crazy-hard on the kids, frankly.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:34 AM on November 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

My ex-husband moved to Australia when we divorced, while the children (then aged 6 and 7) and I remained in the US. Our divorce agreement states that we can share physical custody only if we're living within I think 20-30 miles of each other. The kids would need to go to the same school. Otherwise, I have full physical custody.

It's now been about 18 months. The kids speak to their father on FaceTime every few days and they see a psychologist once a week to help them process this huge loss in their lives. It's still very difficult and every one who knew my ex is shocked that he abandoned the children.

Because, yes, by moving to another place so far away he effectively abandoned them.

Don't delude yourself, there is no such thing as shared custody if you are in different countries.
posted by Dragonness at 7:38 AM on November 27, 2014 [39 favorites]

Am I fooling myself to think it might be possible to make this work?

Yes. Unless your definition of "making it work" involves barely knowing your kids and basically treating them like a loved niece and/or nephew.

A lot of kids have their Dad's run off for a variety of reasons, and most of them turn out ok. Some of them even develop decent relationships with their fathers as adults. But by doing this you are absolutely abdicating your responsibility as a father. You won't be there. Facetime and bi-yearly visits are not fathering. That's what grandparents and Aunts/Uncles do. The daily minutia of diapers, feedings, and arranging playdates is fathering. You can't do any of that from a plane ride away.

Realize that if your ex-wife develops any sort of mental or physical problems that are bad enough to affect their home-life, but not bad enough to require any sort of intervention, that your kids are going to be raising themselves and you will probably have no idea and no ability to help them. You're not going to to be able to see how their life is as you won't be there, and so you won't be able to step in and fill in the gaps.

If your ex-wife called you up and said that she was going to be moving across the border, leaving you in Canada taking care of the kids the majority of the time, what would your opinion of that be?
posted by Dynex at 9:38 AM on November 27, 2014 [10 favorites]

Speaking as a shared-custody parent (in my case, I am a step parent) I truly cannot imagine how this could work. We live 10 minutes from my kid's bio-mom and that is complicated enough. I sincerely cannot imagine how it could even be "shared". You can have them visit you for the summer or for the occasional stretch, but remember everything they know, that they are familiar with, all of their friends and the things they want to do will be back home where their mom lives. Not a lot of kids would be super happy to be taken out of their lives for blocks of time to spend a week in a basically unfamiliar place with a person they hardly know (you) and no friends around.

So yes, you are fooling yourself to think it is possible to make this work.

Ultimately you are going to have to decide if you NEED to move to the US. It sounds like you don't NEED to ("I may try to look for work in the US") so maybe... don't. A choice to move to the US right now would likely boil down to your abandoning your kids, in terms of their relationship with you. Moving away is not a good choice if you want to maintain a level of closeness and connection to your children. Not right now. You make your choices, but this is a little bit of a "you need to think of what is best for the kids right now" situation. I am never an advocate for staying in an unhappy marriage for the kids, but the choice isn't "stay unhappily married for the kids" or "get a divorce and move to another country". There is a HUGE grey area in there that I think you should consider.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:17 AM on November 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

The only way I could see this making sense is if you were talking about a Vancouver-to-Seattle kind of distance. And even then that's far enough to be a serious headache.
posted by Sequence at 10:22 AM on November 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I also want to add that my step son had abandonment issues when his parents separated, and this was with a clear week on week off split custody with a mid-week visit with the non-custody-week parent. Both bio-parents were very present in his life and he still struggled with abandonment. 10 minutes late picking him up from daycare and he was in hysterics because he though they were leaving him there forever because they decided they didn't want him anymore. He frequently mentioned waking up in the middle of the night and having to go in to his mom's bedroom to make sure she was there because he was so worried she was going to leave forever. When he was staying with us he needed nightly reassurance that I (his step mom) would still be there when he woke up in the morning. I told him that no one but the police could ever make me leave him, and then then I'd fight them because I love him too much to ever be taken from him.

And this was with him seeing both of his parents all the time.

I think what he went through was largely quite normal, but I just want to try to show you that even with both parents present and active in their lives divorce is still hard on kids. By moving to another country they are going to absolutely feel that as "Daddy didn't want me" and I think it would be near impossible to convince them otherwise. You can weigh how important that is to you, you can weigh the risks and benefits, but moving to another country is not a choice I would ever make if I intended/hoped to have any sort of relationship with my child.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:37 AM on November 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

Are you going to be just across the border? Is this like Toronto/Detroit or Toronto/Atlanta?

If it's the first, then you need to talk to a lawyer who can help you with this very specific question. If it's the second: don't abandon your kids, dude.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:51 PM on November 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

I haven't shared custody but I did work in the US for several years. I also can't imagine how this would work.

Here are some cross-border considerations to think about:
- You would have to talk to an immigration attorney. Do your kids need status in the USA to visit you for extended periods, and if so what are the requirements to get and maintain that status?
- Is your ex on-board with this plan? Your ex must sign off on all of the cross-border travel and any necessary paperwork for the kids.
- If you are looking to get an employment based green card, you may experience travel black-outs while you are waiting for visas, etc. There will be periods where you are not allowed to leave the USA. They will be unscheduled. They can be very disruptive.
- If you lose your job before you get a green card, you will be kicked out of the US. You will have to pack and leave in a hurry, further disrupting kids' lives if they happen to establish themselves in the US.
- You will not be allowed NEXUS based on your family status. You are forever in the slow border wait line.
- You are a wonderful candidate for being pulled into secondary inspection, sometimes for routine visa things and sometimes just because. You will have your kids with you in secondary. Secondary inspection is boring, can take forever, and has no bathrooms. It is difficult to manage small children in secondary.
- Prescriptions written in Canada cannot be filled in the US. Some medications in the US are not available in Canada and vice versa. This makes medical care a hassle.
- Taxes - how do you deal with child tax credits? How do you save for university? Having to do dual Canadian/US taxes is a huge hassle. You might also not get as many tax breaks as you'd expect from living in the USA because of your ties to Canada.
- Schools are a bit of a cock-up. For example, a WA school district cut-off is August 31 for kindergarten. A BC school district cut-off is December 31 for kindergarten. If your child's birthday is Sept-Dec, what grade should they be in? School start is at different times, typically August in WA and September in BC. School breaks are set up completely differently. If you have special needs kids, that's two completely different types of programs. This would be incredibly difficult to manage.
- My two year old didn't like the 3 hour car trip to see family across the border and complained (occasionally screamed) for hours on the trip. That said, you are less likely to be pulled into secondary when the child is actually screaming at the port of entry.

If you move to the US to work, the only viable lifestyle is for you to visit your kids in Canada. There are enough cross-border hassles for regular Canadian families living in the USA for an extended period, I cannot imagine bringing shared custody into the mix.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:41 PM on November 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Original poster here.

Thanks for the frank answers everyone. This basically reaffirms what I suspected but I figured it couldn't hurt to ask.

As a follow up question, then: if I then file for custody (which I'm fairly certain I'll get for a number of reasons) do work visas allow for children, or do you need to negotiate that separately with an employer?

For example I know a number of people who have taken jobs at tech companies like Facebook or Google who have brought their kids down with them, so I assume it's not uncommon.

(I plan to ask those people as well but wanted to follow up here as well)
posted by knee at 3:32 AM on November 30, 2014

I'd expect your currently amicable divorce would stop being amicable.

You would be putting your kids through another huge change after going through a divorce.

You would be putting them in a position where it would be difficult for them to maintain a relationship with their mom.

I have a hard time imagining any scenario where that is anything but an awful thing to do for everyone but you.
posted by catspajammies at 10:57 AM on November 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm having trouble understanding why you believe the positives of you getting to work at a tech company outweigh the negatives of removing your children from their mother. Unless she's coming with you or is herself very well paid and wealthy (did you take all the paternity while she continued to work?), you taking the kids so far away will mean she rarely gets to see them (I'm not sure you'll legally be allowed to do this. Unless she's so incompetent the courts don't think she can even have them on weekends.) And since you'll be at work most of the day, I imagine you'll have to hire people to take care of them most of the time (unless you are planning all this for a reasonable 35-40 hour work week, which is laughable, someone will have to take care of them outside of daycare and school hours). It really appears you're planning to uproot your kids, remove all the people they love from their lives except you, just so you'll get to see them occasionally on weekends.

Is this solely about furthering your career? Do you have family in the area you are trying to move to? ... do you have a girlfriend in that area??

Why on earth are you trying to do this?
posted by Dynex at 7:22 AM on December 3, 2014

When you accept an offer from a high tech company, they will begin the process to arrange the necessary visas/statuses for you and your dependents. This is not a negotiation, it's an expected part of the package.

Now here's the fun part - getting you and the kids into the country at the same time.

I will assume that you too are a Canadian citizen so you will come in on TN status and your kids will come in on TD. Your employer will provide you with a letter and a package to obtain your TN status. You will ask at the port of entry to enter on TN to work. You will go into secondary inspection and your application is adjudicated on the spot, yes you can go in or no you go back.

Your kids' statuses will also be adjudicated on the spot. This is where the custody paperwork comes into play. You had better have rock solid custody papers and agreement from mom or else your kids are going home. And if your kids go home you have to take them there. Do you want to risk missing work or messing with a job for this?

Every time you cross the border on TN your application is re-adjudicated and you can be tossed. Usually this is a matter of waving your I-94 at them and calling it a day, but sometimes you get pulled into secondary and it can be a huge hassle.

Your employer will provide the lawyers and do all the paperwork for you and your kids. It is easy enough to get one person to the US and stay there, but dealing with the implications of legal immigration in the US is a stressful nightmare even if you're not paying for it yourself.

I really think you will be putting your job, your kids, or both at risk trying this. Don't do it.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:02 PM on December 9, 2014

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