Drafting A “Long-Distance Parenting Plan” in WA

Drafting A “Long-Distance Parenting Plan” in WA

–by Sam Darling

This article provides a basic explanation of how to draft a residential schedule for a “long-distance parenting plan”, meaning a parenting plan between parties who reside long distances from each other. The typical every-other-weekend division of residential time becomes less and less practical the further apart the parties are geographically. Take an extreme example—one parent lives in the United States and the other parent, who enlisted in the military, lives in various locations internationally. Very few parents can afford to fly their children back and forth overseas every two weeks for visitation, nor would they willingly subject their children to the travel time and jetlag. Parents who live a few hundred miles from each other face similar problems. In fact, in my experience, when the span is more than 50-100 miles, the parties are better off with a specially drafted division of residential time that takes into consideration the distance between the parties’ homes.

Long-Distance Parenting Plan1. The Flawed, Yet Typical Long-Distance Parenting Plan. Most judges and family law lawyers resolve the distance dilemma by consolidating visits into fewer, more lasting trips. For instance, some such parenting plans might allot the non-custodial parent the entirety of the children’s summer vacation and every other winter break, with no visitations between. Unfortunately this solution comes with substantial flaws. These types of residential schedules force the custodial parent to give up most or all of the summer break; and the non-custodial parent sees the children infrequently, which can be heartbreaking for non-custodial parents who had been highly involved in their children’s lives.

2. Our Firm’s Solution. Given the typical long-distance parenting plan’s drawbacks, our firm advocates for what one might call a hybrid plan. I call it a hybrid plan because it includes longer, less frequent contact than the standard every-other-weekend residential schedule, but more frequent, shorter contact than the typical long-distance parenting plan. What allows our hybrid plan to work is its flexibility. The non-custodial parent does not receive the entirety of the summer, but he or she has the option of vacationing with the children throughout the year so long as he or she gives adequate advance notice to the other parent and the children do not miss school.

The following is example language from a hybrid long-distance parenting plan’s residential schedule (section 3 of a Washington State parenting plan).

Example Language for Hybrid Long-Distance Parenting Plan

3.1 Schedule for Children Under School Age

Prior to enrollment in school, the child(ren) shall reside with petitioner, except for the following days and times when the children will reside with or be with the other parent:

See paragraph 3.6 below

3.2 School Schedule

Upon enrollment in school, the child(ren) shall reside with petitioner, except for the following days and times when the children will reside with or be with the other parent:

See paragraph 3.6 below

3.3 Schedule for Winter Vacation

The child(ren) shall reside with petitioner one year and respondent the next, on an alternating basis. The petitioner’s time with the child(ren) shall begin during the 2014-2015 school year. Winter vacation commences on the day the child(ren) get out of school and ends the day before the child(ren) return to school.

3.4 Schedule for Other School Breaks

Spring break shall alternate on a two-year schedule. In odd numbered years, the child(ren) shall reside with the petitioner during spring break; and in even numbered years, with the other parent. For purposes of this provision, spring break begins when school lets out and ends the day before the child(ren) return(s) to school. The following is an example of the deadline for the end of spring break: if the child(ren) begin(s) school on a Monday, spring break ends the morning of the preceding Sunday.

Mid-winter break, if any shall also alternate on a two-year schedule. In odd numbered years, the child(ren) shall reside with the respondent during mid-winter break; and in even numbered years, with the other parent. For purposes of this provision, mid-winter break begins when school lets out and ends the day before the child(ren) return(s) to school. The following is an example of the deadline for the end of mid-winter break: if the child(ren) begin(s) school on a Wednesday, mid-winter break ends the evening of the preceding Tuesday. The parties shall disregard mid-winter break if would result in inter-state travel and the break is three total days or less, including weekends.

3.5 Summer Schedule

Upon completion of the school year, the children shall reside with the petitioner, except for the following days and times when the children will reside with or be with the other parent:

See paragraph 3.6 below

3.6 Vacation With Parents

Each calendar month respondent shall be allowed one four-day weekend with the child(ren) in Washington. These short, four-day vacations are generally intended to allow the respondent to visit the child(ren) where the child(ren) reside with the petitioner, and these short vacations must not interfere with the child(ren)’s school attendance. In addition to these four-day vacations, respondent shall be entitled to eight consecutive weeks of vacation with the child(ren) each summer. Respondent may take these longer, eight-week vacations in locations outside Washington.

Every year the petitioner shall be entitled to vacation with the child(ren) for a total of two weeks, which may be taken successively or in two intervals.

Each party must schedule his or her vacation time, as delineated above, with at least thirty-days’ written notice to the other parent. The party receiving notice shall have no more than fifteen days in which to respond by claiming the same day(s) of vacation, not excluding the requirement that such response must be made at least thirty days in advance of the vacation date(s) in question. If each party claims the same vacation day(s), the petitioner’s vacation request(s) shall govern in even numbered years and the respondent’s vacation request(s) shall govern in odd numbered years.

It shall be presumptively contemptuous for the mother to take any action which would preclude the father from vacation with the child(ren) over Father’s Day weekend or the several days immediately preceding or following.

Similarly, it shall be presumptively contemptuous for the father to take any action which would preclude the mother from vacationing with the child(ren) over Mother’s Day weekend or the several days immediately preceding or following.

For more legal articles and guides, we encourage you to view the resources section of our firm’s website. Or contact us to speak with one of our knowledgeable attorneys.

Recent Posts