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Long Distance Parenting and Joint Legal Decision Making

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*This blog is specific to two good parents and may not apply in cases of domestic violence, drug or alcohol use, neglect or other circumstances.
Co-parenting is easier said than done when two parents live in the same house. It’s harder when two parents are sharing custody in the same town. It can be downright problematic when parents are attempting to co-parent from a long distance. Long distance co-parenting typically means that one parent has the children the majority of the time. This necessarily results in one parent providing for most of the day-to-day needs and decisions regarding the children. The non-residential parent is often relegated to a second-class parent, leaving both parents frustrated.
Regardless of how you feel about the other parent, your child only has one Mother and one Father. Your child did not choose their Mother or Father- you did! One of the greatest gifts you can give to your children is to do everything in your power to preserve and strengthen the relationship between parents and children. It is a relationship that cannot be replaced. Many times in long distance relationships, small differences are magnified, divisions are wedged, and alienation can begin. 
Long Distance Parenting Plans:
Designing long distance parenting plans usually isn’t too difficult for school-aged children between the ages of 5 and 15. The school schedule dictates when the child will be able to travel for parenting time with the non-residential parent. Typically, the non-residential parent ends up seeing the children for half of winter/Christmas break, fall break, spring break and a solid chunk of summer, or some variation based on the school schedule. When you have two good parents, there isn’t too much to disagree about because this is the only practical way the child will be able to spend time with both parents.
The non-residential parent is often disappointed at not being more involved with the day–to-day activities and decisions of the child’s life and the residential parent is often disappointed at not having more vacation time with the child or help raising the children. On the plus side, fewer exchanges can sometimes mean less conflict between parents and reduced stress for children who no longer have to witness these exchanges.
Very often court orders require parents to communicate and confer about what is going on in the lives of the children. When the residential parent fails to provide the non-residential parent with information related to medical issues, school issues, extra curricular activities or other issues, it can create serious frustration and resentment. It can also mark the trend of an alienating parent.
What can the non-residential parent do if they are being alienated?
If you are in a situation where the residential parent is refusing to co-parent, your options are limited. You can file to enforce the court ordered parenting plan related to sharing information and cooperation, but what is the remedy? The court will not fine the non-cooperative parent. They are not likely to throw the un-cooperative parent in jail. Many times, judge’s hands are tied. Your only real option is to ask for a change in custody, or ask to become the residential parent.
Young Children and Teenagers
Other challenges related to long distance co-parenting occur when you have very young children who cannot fly alone or teenagers, who may no longer want to spend a significant amount of the summer out of state. In that case, parents must get creative. It is important to recognize any signs of alienation early and intervene as soon as possible. At the same time, a certain amount of withdrawal from the parent-child relationship is inevitable when a child becomes a teenager.
The key to retaining or creating a strong relationship between children and long distance parents is communication both between the parents and between the children. Consider implementing a schedule that allows for regular communication between both the parents and the children. Without this regular communication, it is virtually impossible to keep the non-residential parent involved or up to speed.
In the event there are serious challenges, consider getting a parenting coordinator, mediator or family counselor involved. It is an investment worth making for the mental health and stability of everyone involved. For a list of professionals who can help, give us a call at 480-649-2905.

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