Effectively co-parenting following a separation or divorce is challenging enough when parents live
near each other. It becomes significantly more difficult when co-parenting in different states and attempting to be long distance co-parents. This type of parenting plan will have significant
practical and emotional impact, not only for the adults but for the children as well. As a result, this family
law custody arrangement needs to be considered very carefully and only chosen when
absolutely necessary and for truly legitimate reasons.
Right and Wrong Reasons for Long-Distance Co-Parenting
Long-distance co-parenting should be chosen only when it is essential for one parent to move out
of state and there are no other viable options. Some examples of this would be when it is the
only way one parent can find employment or make a living in their profession, if there is a
family member in another state that requires care, or if one parent is unable to support
themselves in the home state where the parents previously lived due to a high cost of living.
There are many wrong reasons as well for making this choice. These include a desire to live in a
warmer climate, hoping to get as far away as possible from your narcissistic ex, or wanting to get a fresh
start with a new significant other. The emotional toll that this move will take, especially on your
children, is far too great to be made for these non-essential and frankly selfish reasons.
How to Co-Parent in Different States: The MOVE Strategy
For this joint custody plan to have a chance of being successful when one parent moves to
another state, four things must happen. The MOVE strategy lays out the essential components
necessary to make long distance parenting work for your family.
M-Maintain a consistent schedule
Consistency is the key to any type of parenting arrangement, but it becomes even more
essential when co-parenting in different states. Whatever parenting time schedule gets
created it MUST be followed regularly and predictably. The children have already been forced
to deal with so much change and inconsistency that any more instability must be avoided at all
There are many ways that a child custody plan can be created under these unique
circumstances. The specifics will be guided by the ages of the children involved and the actual
distance/travel time between the two homes. As a rule, younger children need to see their
parents on a more frequent basis whereas older children can go longer periods of time without parental contact.
So, here are a few possible plans: older children can spend the school year
with one parent and the summer with the other. If they live close enough, they can be with one
parent during the week and the other parent on specified weekends. Children could also spend
the day to day with the primary custodial parent and extended vacations with the other parent.
None of these parenting plans are ideal since they require that the children go extended
periods of time not seeing one of their parents. However, creating a plan that can and will be
followed consistently by both parents will provide the children with the security of knowing
when and for how long they will next see each parent. This will go a long way toward reducing
some of the potential emotional damage that this type of parenting plan can cause.
O-Open communication between co-parents
Effective communication is the key to any co-parenting relationship but perhaps even more so
in this unique situation. There will be many logistical issues to be resolved, many emotional
challenges to be handled, and many parenting dilemmas to be managed. It will be essential to
communicate clearly and often and have a strategy for assuring that you are both on the same
page in terms of what you heard and understood. Using a shared parenting app, such as Our
Family Wizard or Coparently, can be incredibly helpful in accomplishing that goal.
Another helpful strategy is to utilize the KFCs of communicating like business partners:
Keep your emotions in check so things don’t escalate,
Focus on your shared goal which is successfully raising your children, and
Communicate professionally and refrain from inappropriate language or behavior.
V-Value your child’s time in both homes
Your children are going to be living in a situation where they will always be missing one of you.
It is therefore essential that you provide them with every opportunity to stay connected with
their other parent while they are with you. This is best accomplished if you fully embrace,
support, and value that relationship, both through your words and your actions. Encourage
their frequent contact, be open to hearing about their positive visits, and avoid communicating
jealousy or resentment about their loving relationship. They need that from you, and you must
work through your negative emotions and not let them get in the way of meeting your
children’s emotional needs.
E– Expect road bumps
It is essential that you enter this type of custody arrangement with your eyes wide open and
with realistic expectations. It is far from an ideal way to co-parent, and it is going to create
significant challenges for every family member. Your ex will undoubtedly be resentful of the
added stress that this is going to create in their life which may negatively impact their ability to
work together with you on your children’s behalf. Your children may be angry with you for what
they perceive as you abandoning them and may pull away from you emotionally. You will
inevitably miss out on many of the important events in your children’s lives which can
negatively impact your relationship with them.
Again, these are the reasons for avoiding this parenting arrangement whenever possible.
However, if it is truly your only option, you need to be aware of these potential consequences
and be open to dealing with them, both with your ex and your children. Listen to and
acknowledge their concerns and be willing to do everything in your power to address them in a
loving way. And follow the other steps in the MOVE strategy to minimize the negative
consequences co-parenting in different states.