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If you are going through a divorce or custody battle with an ex and know that you will have to relocate for work or other reasons, you are probably thinking about how you will parent your child or children long distance. The good news is that there have been a lot of great advances in technology that can help you see your children every day, work together with your ex to co-parent, and know what is going on in your children's daily lives. Read on to learn ten tricks and tips for long-distance parenting in a virtual world from a Wisconsin family law attorney.
1-Agree on a Visitation Plan That Is Clear but Flexible
Here is where the whole thing can either go very well for the family or poorly. If you are doing long-distance parenting, that means the other parent probably has the primary physical placement of the child or children. Understanding the difference between legal custody and primary physical placement is essential because parents often confuse these two things regarding child custody in Wisconsin. Legal custody is where one or both parents have the legal right to make decisions regarding the child or children's long-term future. Some examples would include where they go to school, medical care, and religious education. Typically, parents share joint legal custody, which means each parent has an equal say in the decisions that affect the child or children. Sometimes, one parent gets full legal custody and all of the decision power for various reasons. It's important to understand what type of legal custody you have once the court awards it. Primary physical placement is where the child or children will spend most of their time. In rare occasions, primary physical placement can be split equally if the parents live very close to one another.
On the other hand, typically, one of the parents has a primary physical placement, and the other parent has a visitation schedule. The visitation schedule needs to be clear but flexible. When we say it needs to be flexible, that means that there should be language included in the actual plan ratified by the court that allows for some shifting around, changing, or extending visits. It can be difficult sometimes to coordinate travel for children, and the visitation schedule should reflect that by allowing for some room to move and deal with contingencies. Also, the visitation plan should be clear about the parents working together to arrange the travel for visitation and address concerns like who pays for the travel, how soon the travel arrangements should be confirmed between parents, and what happens if travel is delayed. Read our article to Learn About Child Visitation Rights in Wisconsin.
2-The Same Goes for Your Parenting Plan, Which Contains the Custody and Visitation Order and Plan.
A parenting plan is an agreement between the parents on how they will raise their children. It does include legal custody, physical placement, and a visitation schedule. It is your right to work with your co-parent to devise a proposed parenting plan for the court to review. In it, you and your ex can make your own decisions on custody, placement, and visitation. The court prefers favorably on parents who can get together on these issues, work them out themselves, and tend to grant the proposed parenting plan. The proposed parenting plan should consider that one parent will be parenting long distance and identify what the co-parents will do to make long-distance parenting work for their children. Clarify in the parenting plan what the parents will do if there is a medical emergency and one parent is far away. Clarify what means of technology will be utilized to maintain regular contact between the long-distance parent and the child or children. Agree on what devices the child or children will be allowed access to communicate or agree on who will bear the cost of purchasing new devices in order to facilitate regular communication. Having the parenting plan address the issue of one parent being long-distance and what steps will be taken for them to participate in their child's or children's lives meaningfully will make a big difference later on down the road and help with avoiding any long-distance parenting pitfalls. For an idea on what to include in your parenting plan read our article, Considerations for Wisconsin Parenting Plans.
3-Talk to Your Child or Children Often
This is where technology steps in and lends you a big hand with long-distance parenting. Talk to your child every day if you can. If your child is old enough for their own phone, get them one and use it for Skype or FaceTime. Another suggestion is to have set times in the parenting plan for video or audio chats. One suggestion is when your child gets home from school or even the evening before bed. The key here is consistency; let your children know that you are still there, and they can connect with you.
4-Remember, Technology Is Your Friend In This
There are still some people out there who prefer to avoid technology whenever possible, and that's ok, but if you plan to parent long-distance, you will need the help of technology. A smartphone, a tablet device, or a laptop will be required. Make it easy on yourself and get whatever technology you think will assist you best before you and your children part. This way, you can work out what applications you will use and ensure that everyone knows how to use it and that you are on the same page about communicating. Get everything arranged so that you and your children know that they have something they can rely on moving forward. A durable tablet is usually a good pick if your child is younger. For older children, a smartphone (we are sure they want one anyway) or a laptop would be a good choice. Discuss and agree on this with your co-parent before purchasing anything; remember, you two have to work together on this.
5-Share A Children's Calendar With The Other Parent To Stay Up To Date With Activities And Events Like Recitals Or Sports Games
Being a long-distance parent can be hard when you want to attend your child's events. One thing you and your co-parent can do is agree to share a calendar online so that you are aware of everything your child has going on for that day, week, or month. Knowing that events are happening ahead of time can put you in a position to either attend virtually or ask that the event be recorded so that you can watch it. There are apps available for sharing calendars, or you can agree with your ex that they will text you calendar dates for special things so that you can be up to date on what is going on. It is up to you and your co-parent to decide what method is best for you, but again, this is another example of how technology can make long-distance co-parenting easier for everyone and keep you involved in your child or children's daily lives.
This is important in any parenting as well as long distance. If you have a set time every day at 7:45 pm to call your child before bedtime, do it. Block it off on your phone calendar or set reminders. It is important to do what you tell them you are going to do. All too often, the long-distance parent gets distracted by daily life in their new home and starts to become spotty in their communications with their child, don't do this. Use that phone or laptop to get in touch with your child, so they know they can depend on you.
7-Try Online Gaming or Hosting Virtual Watch Parties with Your Children
This is a relatively new product of the pandemic, virtual watch parties. Many streaming apps now offer the service where you can set up a watch party with people long distance. Try to set up a movie night with your kids once or twice a month so that you all have the same experience simultaneously. DoorDash your kids a meal and have a virtual family movie or game night together. While it may seem like these are really simple things, these types of activities can go a long way. You can also play online games with your children if they are old enough and are into it. Whatever it takes to keep that daily connection between you and your child or children should at least be attempted.
8-Social Media Can Also Be a Means of Sharing
Social media platforms come and go as far as popularity for children. Considering your children's age and maturity level, it may be helpful to set up a profile on whatever social media platform they say you should get on and share with them that way. It might be Tik Tok dances or sending Instagram reels, but the bottom line is that you are connecting virtually and sending snapshots of daily life to each other. If your children are not yet old enough for social media or you don't want them on there, consider sending regular texts, which leads us to the next idea.
9-Become a Texter
Some people like texting, and some people hate it. If you are one of the people who hate it, you might need to work to overcome that. Most kids these days text heavily, and if you want to maintain a connection with your kids, this may be something you will need to become a pro at.
10-Work Hard to Co-Parent
No attempts to parent virtually will run smoothly without your co-parent's cooperation. They will have the ability to take away devices or cancel communication times if they are not in agreement with your attempts to connect virtually. Try to keep all your communications with the other parent regarding virtual connection in writing, and make sure that you keep it logical and polite because it could end up in front of a judge's eyes someday. Always emphasize your desire to have meaningful time with the kids, and make sure it is obvious that you are just trying to remain a daily part of their lives.
So, in a nutshell, there are many more options for a long-distance parent in the virtual world these days. If you are not tech-savvy or a fan of online interaction, this may be the time to learn if you want to be an active long-distance parent. If you are trying to work out long-distance parenting or need any other family law help in Wisconsin, feel free to call O'Flaherty Law; we would be happy to help you.
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