When I am asked the question from a prospective client as to what I typically see for parenting time for an out-of-state parent, the first analysis I look at is the relationship the parent has had with the minor child(ren). For instance, if the out-of-State parent has been very actively involved with the child(ren), it is likely that the Court would want to grant sufficient parenting time to maintain that bond between parent and child(ren). If, on the other hand, the out-of-State parent has not been actively involved with the child(ren), the parenting time that I typically see between that parent and the child(ren) often starts out very limited and possibly even supervised at a safety center to ensure the safety and stability of the minor child(ren), until it is deemed that the child(ren) is ready for a unsupervised relationship with the parent.
Due to significant distance between parents, either sharing custody under a 50/50 access schedule and/or having an every other weekend schedule is virtually impossible because of the strain it would put on the child(ren) relative to the travel and the costs of travel. Of course, some out-of-state locations do not place the non-custodial parent that far from the child(ren) and, under this circumstance, the Court can generally fashion a parenting time schedule that may involve both parents doing some of the driving, possibly to a half-way meeting spot. However, if such driving is not deemed to be in the children’s best interest based on the amount of time and costs associated, and/or air travel is needed, the Court typically considers parenting time that would occur at times when the child(ren) are not in school. For instance, if you are dealing with school-aged children and you have a parent that has had a good relationship with the minor child(ren) and has been actively involved with the child(ren), often, the Court wants the non-custodial parent to have substantial time over the summer, spring break, winter break, and over certain extended holidays (e.g. Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.). If the Court grants this out-of-State parenting time, the Court also has to determine how the costs for travel will be paid. Often, children at certain ages need an adult to accompany them on any flight. This would obviously increase the costs for airfare. Judicial officers are open to the possibility of splitting these costs, but may inquire as to which parent was the one who moved away, making the cost of parenting time more expensive. For instance, if the custodial parent moved, making it more difficult for the non-custodial parent to exercise parenting time, I often see judicial officers require that the custodial parent incur some, if not all, of the child(ren)’s travel costs for the non-custodial parent’s parenting time. However, if the non-custodial parent (parent asking for parenting time) is the one who has moved further away, the Court may require that non-custodial parent to pay all of the travel costs, or contribute substantially toward the same. When I have a client who contacts me about out-of-state parenting time, I tell that client to inquire about airfare, as well as if the airline would require an adult-accompanying ticket due to the age of the child(ren).
Courts do want to keep both parents actively involved with the minor child(ren); however, when a parent is out-of-State, the type of parenting time that parent will exercise is much different than a parent who is in-State and close to the other parent. When a non-custodial, out-of-State parent is coming to Court to ask for parenting time, it is very important to establish to the Court the prior relationship that parent has had with the child(ren), the costs that would be incurred in travel for parenting time, the parent should be well aware of the child(ren)’s school calendar so that that parent can effectively speak to the Court about times when the child(ren) are not in school when that parent could exercise parenting time. Also, considering the child(ren)’s other relationships with friends, family members, extracurricular activities is also very important. For instance, if a child is actively involved in baseball over the summer, and the other parent requests the full summer in the State he/she resides in, it is important for that parent to have researched options available for that child to participate in baseball in the State in which he/she is located, and have a very concrete plan for how this would work. I generally find that if the non-custodial parent (parent requesting out-of-State parenting time) has a very detailed and defined plan covering all matters dealing the child(ren) when the children(ren) would be with that out-of-State parent, it works much better than if that parent goes to Court without any plan.
Additionally, if you have a child or children with special needs, you also want to ensure that those special needs are met within the State that you are in during parenting time. For instance, if you have a child who is receiving therapy, you would want to ensure that you have actively investigated therapists in your area and insurance, so that child can receive therapeutic intervention while with the you. Courts primarily consider the best interests of the minor child(ren) when determining parenting time. Thus, when asking for out-of-state parenting time, the non-custodial parent should focus on the child(ren)’s needs, stability, consistency, and best interests in coming up with a plan of action as far as out-of-State parenting time. This generally results in a far better outcome if the matter ends up before a Court to determine the out-of-State parenting time.