August 2014 Bar Bulletin
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August 2014 Bar Bulletin

Shuttling Children of Divorce: A Long-Distance Primer

By Kim Schnuelle


As each year passes, the United States becomes a more and more mobile society. This increased mobility affects all aspects of our personal lives, but perhaps none so much as our family relationships.

When parents separate, one parent may move across the state or across the world. The distance created by this move can have a profound effect upon the lives of their minor children. Therefore, in the event of a divorce or legal separation where such issues are at play, it is essential that counsel tailor any parenting plan to the realities of long-distance transportation and international family law issues.

This article will touch upon prudent steps counsel should consider in both advising their client and in drafting final orders in such situations. This article assumes that both parents are working together for their children's best interests and that no RCW 26.09.191 restrictions are appropriate in the case.

If any custody or visitation orders, whether temporary or final, have been entered in court, the provisions of the relocation statute, RCW 26.09.405, et seq., will apply.1 If the non-custodial/non-majority parent wishes to object, the provisions contained in the relocation statute will govern the form and manner of such actions and the court will determine whether the children may relocate or not.

But what if the non-custodial parent is in agreement with the relocation, but wants to preserve his or her time with the child to the extent possible? What provisions can be inserted into a parenting plan that address the difficulties inherent in a "long-distance" plan and serve the child's best interest in this regard?

Visitation Timing Issues

If a child is under school age, there is less of a constraint on when blocks of visitation time occur. In such events, the duration and dates of such visitation are typically governed more by the distance between the parents' respective residences, the age and temperament of the child, and the flexibility of the parents' schedules.

For example, if the parents live 200 miles apart, the child is three years old and travels well in a car, it may be logical to set up an exchange at the mid-point and engage in alternate-weekend visitations. A parenting plan can require the use of age-appropriate car seats and specify the exact exchange location and time. In this electronic age, parties can call or text each other if traffic is such that they may be late.

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