divorce, kids, and moving
November 15, 2019 2:29 AM   Subscribe

So this was me. Long story short, things haven't gotten much better, and I'm starting to consider the idea of ending the relationship. There's one big thing stopping me, though: My spouse and I moved to a different state a couple of years ago. I hate it and want to move back intensely. I'm not sure how that could happen if we split up.

Getting it out of the way, yes, my dislike for our new state is part of our problems. I know this is the case, and I'd appreciate it if answers didn't dwell on that, because it's not what I'm asking about.

The reason I can't just leave and move back is because we have kids, and I don't know how multi-state co-parenting would work. Logistically, it seems pretty difficult - would the kids have to fly back and forth?

Who would be the primary custodial parent is an open question. As some of you deduced from my lack of genders in the previous post, I'm a man and my spouse is a woman. From a custody standpoint, I'd expect that means that she would have an easier path to custody than I would, although I think I could make a pretty good case. Regardless of which one of us got custody, though, if I move back home, the other one would be a thousand miles away. We obviously couldn't do an every-other-week setup, or weekdays-weekends like my parents did. Heck, once they start school, it would seem like they'd have to spend the whole school year except vacations in one spot. So what does the other parent do? Wait nine months for summer break?

This is a major blocker for me. As much as I hate where I live now, I'd hate living without my kids more. And as bad as my wife has been, as long as we're together I at least have a seat at the proverbial table to talk her into moving back. Leaving her means that I'd lose that leverage. If she got custody, that would basically force me into a me-or-my kids situation. I'm not going to make any moves unless I have a better idea of how it would play out.

So what I'm asking is, how would it play out? If you (or someone you know) moved to another state after divorcing, how did you handle custody? If you were the custodial parent and wanted to move, how did you bring it up with the other parent? And if you were the non-custodial parent, how did you set up visitation?

Not to be facetious, but my only model for multi-state parenting is the TV show Frasier, where Frasier lives in Seattle and his son lives in Boston with Lilith, and Freddie goes to Seattle once every couple of years. Not ideal. I want my kids to be more than a plot device.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unless I’ve misunderstood, you’re assuming that your only two options are staying in the marriage or moving a thousand miles away.

Presumably you could also leave the marriage but stay where you are? I know you don’t like the state, but it might at least become more bearable if you weren’t trapped in a torturous marriage.

You say you’re scared of losing the leverage to get her to move back, but do you, in reality, have that leverage now? Is it something she’s actually likely to do if you stay married, or is it just something you wish would happen? If the latter, you’ve nothing to lose by separating but staying in your current state.
posted by penguin pie at 2:38 AM on November 15, 2019 [15 favorites]

Have you sought legal advice on this? What has worked for others or elsewhere is irrelevant, you need to understand what is possible in your jurisdiction. That will give you a much better framework to think this through and determine your next steps.

Re leverage to talk her into moving back. I would gently point out that even in a good marriage talking people who don’t want to move into moving is not generally possible. It seems unlikely that people in a bad marriage would be more successful.

So explore how you can be happy in your current location if the enormous strains of maintaining this miserable relationship as marriage are removed. Just imagine the weight being lifted and the options opening up. And then go and speak to a lawyer.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:00 AM on November 15, 2019 [12 favorites]

My ex moved out of the state immediately after telling me he was ending our marriage, and exactly what you were worrying about happens — he sees the kids for probably less than two weeks a year, total. He could certainly see them at least some more if he put more effort into it, but you’re right that it’s very hard.
posted by LizardBreath at 3:41 AM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

My sister divorced and lived a distance from her ex, but within the same state. They eventually had the kids one year at a time, with the kids choosing where they wanted to be as they got older.

My husband's kids are out of state and he sees them once a month by plane (he goes to them). It is logistically complicated and expensive to do that, and I don't recommend it. If you decide to do that, you going to the kids will be much less disruptive to their lives then sending them to you unless they are on school breaks of at least one week.
posted by crunchy potato at 4:02 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Talk to a live local family lawyer! This is a common query for them. Some states’ laws make it very difficult to remove/relocate children even out of their current city once the family courts get involved through separation/divorce. Other states have a much easier burden of proof to meet for showing a “change in material circumstances” to approve the move post-divorce. Lawyer, stat!

I’ve lived and am living this relocation scenario. My former spouse had been secretly scheming for over a year to divorce me, while acting quite convincingly like he valued our marriage (right down to the fun family trips and pleasuring me intimately until the sudden end), and he tricked me into a cross-country move to where his secret 8.5-year long distance affair partner lived. Then I figured it out before we had lived in the new state for 6 months (which would have been sufficient time to make our children citizens of the new state under the UCCJEA). His shady actions ( “forum shopping”) did not go over well in our divorce, and we had a long jurisdictional fight. It was hell. He should have just had a lawyer make me a decent settlement offer from the start.

Then, his romantic relationship with his former affair partner blew up, my former spouse was allegedly terminated from his job under suspicious circumstances that made me think he quit, he didn’t bother to genuinely look for a local or in-state job, rather he found a new job out of state, moved away, immediately got engaged to a different chumpy person willing to help raise our kids and do all the domestic labor, bought a house, and once again sued me for custody. As in, sued to compel me to move out of state with him and maintain joint custody or else I’d have to be a long-distance parent if he won in court. It was bizarre.

We settled out of court, and the children and I are scheduled to move to his new state which borders our home state (and is a 4-hour drive from our home) at the end of the school year. There are more opportunities for me there professionally and better schools. In the interim, we have a “long distance parenting plan” basically giving him all of their time off from school and half of winter break, plus visitation anytime he feels like coming to town to visit them.

I recommend doing all you can to live as close as possible to your kids— some driveable distance. You do not want to have to fly. I’ve also had the experience the past 6 months of having full physical custody of 3 kids for the first time ever, and it’s been so much harder than it was with joint custody. So I am now looking forward to the move. Your wife may be willing to relocate as divorced people, but if she’s like me, it will take time and trying things out to see which way she prefers. Which takes oodles of time and healing from the divorce.

You really must speak to a live, local family lawyer ASAP. Try to keep relations as positive and business like as you can. The fathers rights movement really changed the culture in the last 20 years. Fathers who simply comply with court orders and are not abusive win custody over picture perfect mothers each and every day in this country; document everything you do for your kids, ask a lawyer if it’s legal to record your wife’s abusive yelling before she’s aware you are leaving her abuse. See a lawyer yesterday.
posted by edithkeeler at 4:31 AM on November 15, 2019 [16 favorites]

Maybe you'll get better answers if you reveal which state you live in now via the mods, although I understand that's an identifying detail. But I came in to say that a family member in Illinois with a deadbeat ex (who seldom has anything to do with the kids and is years behind on support) still retains veto power over the custodial parent's ability to switch states. Even if the move brings them into closer proximity. Apparently Illinois preferences biological parentage over all other kinds of practical, financial and emotional support.
posted by carmicha at 5:39 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I know you don’t like the state, but

...as a parent, your primary decision-making lodestone is asking yourself which of the options open to you is genuinely best for your kids, and then picking that one. Having chosen to take on the task of parenthood, you owe your kids the prioritization of their interests ahead of your own until they're of an age to support themselves autonomously.

Adhering to this principle will yield a result that sucks for you to some extent because it means you'll be living in a state you hate for quite some while yet, but it sure makes decision-making a lot swifter and clearer. And you're an autonomous adult already; you have resources and you will find ways to cope until you don't need to any more.

Obviously the best outcomes happen when your own interests and those of your kids just happen to align, but for most parents most of the time, this doesn't happen. Being a parent involves making a deliberate, clear-eyed commitment to being OK with that.

So you're facing two separable sets of options right now. One involves leaving your wife, and the other involves moving interstate. Look at each of these through the lens of what's going to be best for your kids, come to decisions and act on them.

Having no option but to live with parents who model an abusive relationship for them is terrible for kids' mental health, so there's your main consideration on that issue. If you've made all reasonable efforts to ensure that your own relationship is not abusive, which it sounds like you have, and yet the abuse is ongoing, then it's time to walk away from that relationship. But that needs to be done in a way that the kids will not interpret as either parent walking away from them, which the immediate insertion of large amounts of geography between you would pretty much inevitably be seen as.

I'm sorry this is hard. But like all things it will pass, and you can look forward to seeing your healthy happy kids make their own way in the world and knowing that it was worth it once it has.
posted by flabdablet at 6:05 AM on November 15, 2019 [23 favorites]

As much as I hate where I live now, I'd hate living without my kids more. And as bad as my wife has been, as long as we're together I at least have a seat at the proverbial table to talk her into moving back. Leaving her means that I'd lose that leverage. If she got custody, that would basically force me into a me-or-my kids situation.

You need to consult a local family attorney ASAP to see what options exist. Keep in mind the even if you get custody and are allowed to move, then your spouse would be forced into a her-or-her kids situation. And it’s terrible when children feel abandoned. When I separated from my husband, I also started a brand new job and worked out shared custody so that I was responsible for my kid from Friday afternoon until Monday morning for maybe six months until I got the work stuff squared away.

Even though I had custody of my kid about four hours more per week then my husband, my kid felt abandoned and neglected by me. Because the weekend involved fewer days, the actual amount of time we spent together did not register with her. And we were even doing the family home thing where my husband and I took turns living in our family apartment with her so she never had to move.

It sucks to be living someplace you don’t want to be. It especially sucks to be living someplace you don’t want to be with a partner you don’t want to be living with. I don’t think Internet strangers can give you advice about what is possible in your jurisdiction. If you are asking if it is realistic that you or your partner could maintain a healthy relationship with your children while living in two different states, my guess is probably not, depending on the age of your children. Kids need more than quality time. They need quantity time. They need their parents around.

Also, flabdablet’s advice is spot on. Finally, I relocated nearly two years ago to be close to my kid and grandkids. In July they moved several hours away and now I am making plans to eventually move to their new town as well. (With my kid’s enthusiastic support.) In the end, parenting and grandparents got (if you want close relationships) is about access and proximity.

I wish I had a different opinion; I’m not that excited about my own future move. But I’m figuring out ways of mitigating my unhappiness, such as frequent trips back to my current home. This is a really tough situation, and I wish you all the best.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:35 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Outside of desperate circumstances, it is better for your kids to be able to access whichever parent they want within a day without it being a huge big deal. Living a plane ride away is wrong for the kids. It sucks, but you and their mom need to pick a place you're both going to stay. And usually courts consider the current location the default choice if there aren't reasons for relocation more compelling than "I don't like it here."

While it's been hugely beneficial for my kids to have their father and I within walking distance of each other, I know that's not usually viable. Are their other locations within driving distance where you might be happier than where you are now, even though it's not your ideal?
posted by metasarah at 8:03 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

First, we can't say your state for sure, but many states have moved towards standard 50/50 custody if both parents want that. I wouldn't at all assume she is more likely to get custody just because she's the mom.

Second....as a commenter on your previous post, and as someone who grew up with a yelling, insulting parent, please do not move away and leave primary physical custody to your abusive spouse. I don't know how things are now, but emotionally volatile people don't neatly slot into "they're fine with the kids though." Your spouse previously blamed your for their anger issues and said if only you'd stop making them mad, things would be good? People who think like this are not magically more mature about handling their kids.

But you asked for specific examples. My father moved states after my parents divorced. I did not see him because the divorce was shitty and I needed a ton of space. My sibling saw him for a month or two in the summer. My dad was lucky that sibling was not into any sports etc. that would have interfered with this. My dad was still very "vacation dad" though. My mom intermittently trashed my dad in front of us, accused us of being "just like him" in some ugly fights, blamed us for "making her angry" in all of those fights. Paradoxically, she also over-depended on us in her personal life and problems because we were "all she had" and it was so hard for her to be a mostly-single parent. It would never have occurred to sibling or I to involve or even inform our dad of all this, because yeah, when you move far away kids often assume that you are checking out from most of their emotional as well as physical life. If the adults and the courts agreed that Dad gets 4 weeks a year, kids are not going to think they have the power to change that.

Now it's possible that your spouse really will have a fog lifted when you divorce. She will reform her mental and emotional health and will become a stronger, better parent. This requires a lot of personal grit, self-reflection, and emotional work. In my opinion... most people don't pass this test while also going through a divorce and assuming a primary single-parenting role.

TLDR if you're getting divorced because your spouse is abusive to you and they haven't been willing or able to change in your own therapy, this should be a big yellow flag to leaving your kids mostly in their care.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:25 AM on November 15, 2019 [10 favorites]

My parents divorced and lived in different states most of my childhood. I think the distance is fine, I was fortunate they were able to afford to get me plane tickets. Flying solo as a little kid is really fun and cool when you're a kid. Initially I spent 6 months at dads, then 6 at moms. When I started middle school, however, I wanted to be able to stay in one place to make stable friends and stuff instead of forever swapping back and forth midyear. It was a little weird to transfer schools and arrive at lessons I already knew, don't need to learn multiplication twice in the same year. I chose to stay with my mom and visit my dad during summers and stuff.

Move to wherever you're happy, fight for what's best for the kids and sort it out. Likely they will want to settle in one place once school gets more socially serious, middle or high school. From what I can tell, it would probably be best if the kids stayed with you most of the year and did visitation with their other parent in breaks.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:10 AM on November 15, 2019

My ex has country rights over one child now and so I am stuck in limbo until they change their mind. Mostly I try to think of things I do like about this place and build my own small world here, but it is weird emotionally living in a place you don't choose. Weird and sad but you just have to get used to it, because non-custodial parents can slide into absent parents easily. You need to talk to a lawyer.

There are lots of custody options but they depend on how well you get along. There are good basic divorce guidebooks at the library or bookstore that will step you through custody options and how to co-parent basics. It's a lot cheaper to read one of those books first, then go talk to a lawyer.

And yes, if your spouse is abusive to you, unless this a very limited marital dynamic, your children are going to be at risk. Document and talk to a family therapist. Think about how you can each be better single parents.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

When my parents divorced when I was a kid, my father moved far, far away at the behest of his girlfriend. I cannot express to you how awful it was for me, as a child.

In addition to the simple fact of missing my Dad - who I had seen every day - terribly, I also felt that he had made an explicit choice that his new girlfriend's needs were more important than his childrens' (I mean, he did make that choice, and it was painfully clear to us kids, and moving was just one part of it).

I hardly saw him for 3 years, when I did it was always weird cause it was just a few weeks in holidays. Our family had just gone through this massive upheaval and I was desperate for any kind of stability and continuity to hang on to.

I just kind of rolled with it as a kid. Now I'm a parent myself, I'm aghast at his abrogation of responsibility and selfishness (Mum moved, too, it should be noted, but at least I was able to continue going to the same school when I dug my heels in).

Both my parents were understandably focused on trying to move their lives forward, and also catch up on years of happiness and "freedom" that they felt they'd missed out. But they did that at the expense of their children's wellbeing. Don't do it. Be a good father, put your kids first.
posted by smoke at 1:29 PM on November 15, 2019 [10 favorites]

The MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page has information about finding an attorney, including for a consultation so you can better understand how the laws in your state may apply to your situation, and so you can more fully consider your options. There are many variables that may be relevant, including the factors outlined in the best interests of the child statute (Findlaw), which may vary by state.

What has worked for other people may not work for you and your family, and it may not be feasible in your jurisdiction. Only an attorney can provide you with a confidential opportunity to review the relevant facts of your situation and offer you legal advice about what may be possible.
posted by katra at 4:17 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

You can't make this decision till you know your legal options.
posted by emjaybee at 10:54 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

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