Out-of-State Custody Arrangements

by | May 27, 2024 | Child Custody And Visitation

When parents divorce, the law favors what most parents desire—an equal ability and right to be with and co-parent their children when possible. However, doing so becomes much more complicated when ex-spouses don’t live near each other. In California and many other states, a parent must make a strong case for relocating to another state or overseas with their children, with the best interests of the child taking precedence in all situations. Even if the law tends to discourage moving children from an environment and community they are connected to, sometimes, these petitions for changes are granted. 

Regardless of the circumstances for the change, however, typical custody plans in which children move back and forth frequently and over great distances between their parents’ homes are not often feasible. Further, if careful thought and planning are not in place, long-distance co-parenting can give rise to unexpected friction over issues between the co-parents and with any children involved. Finally, managing long-distance child custody comes with additional legal complications, especially when disputes arise across international borders.

To uphold your parental rights and ensure that your child’s best interests are protected when custody is shared across state lines or international borders, you need expert family law representation. The attorneys at Hoover Krepelka, LLP, are experienced in protecting our clients’ right to preserve their relationship with their children while helping to craft custody arrangements that look after their children’s safety and well-being.

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Managing Long-Distance Child Custody

When custody arrangements must accommodate the fact that one parent lives out of state or country, the distance involved, the age(s) of the child(ren), and the cost of travel is among the main factors that can shape when the children are with each parent. Parents may continue to share joint legal custody, giving them both input on key matters affecting their children, such as educational and medical decisions.

While maintaining a strong relationship with each parent is important in creating custody arrangements, frequent and/or lengthy travel may be detrimental to stability and continuity for the child. Thus, long-distance custody arrangements tend to look very different from the typical 50-50 joint custody calendars that work when parents live close to one another. For example, courts may order extended periods of visitation during the summer or over winter breaks when it won’t interfere with a child’s school schedule and particularly when the distance and cost of travel are significant. This often means a noncustodial parent will end up with a disproportionate share of the child’s holidays and vacations from school; however, the custody plan should allow the parent with primary physical custody a fair opportunity to spend major holidays with the child as well. When children are very young, custody arrangements may also include times when the noncustodial parent travels to see the child rather than the child always traveling to them. Consider also that long-distance custody arrangements should address which party is responsible for arranging and paying for travel, as well as providing escorts for children too young to travel on their own. Working with an attorney experienced with similar cases can help point the way to creative solutions while ensuring that no detail is overlooked. 

Creating a Long-Distance Parenting Plan

long-distance child custody

It becomes more difficult for parents to keep a strong relationship with their children and effectively co-parent when they spend long periods not involved in their children’s day-to-day lives. An effective long-distance parenting plan must provide a framework not only for how and when the distant parent is able to communicate with their children but also for how co-parents will communicate with one another. Spelling out the details in advance will help minimize disputes over each parent’s expectations and make it clear if one party is not upholding their obligations to promote a child’s healthy relationship with the distant parent.

Parents have myriad ways of communicating with children, but it’s often best to set up a schedule for regular phone calls or video chats so both children and parents know what to expect. The plan should also set up protocols for impromptu communication so that respectful boundaries can be maintained without unfairly limiting contact.

Between parents, plans should address how often a long-distance co-parent is updated on their child, how co-parents will communicate (phone call, a co-parenting app, shared calendar, email, etc.), and what kind of notice should be provided if changes are needed to their regular schedule of communication. Setting up reasonable parameters and sticking to them can help establish a functional co-parenting relationship that allows parents to work together for their child’s well-being.

Issues in Long-Distance Custody Disputes

When custody disputes arise between parents who live in different states or countries, the question of which court has the authority to rule on the matter may arise. In the U.S., the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) establishes that the most important factor in determining jurisdiction is the child’s home state, defined as the state in which they have lived for at least six months prior to the case being filed, except in cases where a court has continuing jurisdiction from an existing custody determination.

The situation becomes much more complex, however, in international custody disputes. When a child spends time with both parents in different countries, establishing which location has jurisdiction in a custody dispute can be much less straightforward. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a statute intended to protect children from wrongful removal or abduction across international borders, requires that among member states, children under 16 who have been taken from their country of “habitual residence” should be returned, with the understanding that disputes over custody should be resolved in the courts of the country of habitual residence. However, determining the place of habitual residence in international child custody disputes can be a source of disagreement. According to the Convention, several factors can apply, including the shared intentions of the parents, the child’s history of residence, and the settled nature of the family prior to the situation that prompted a petition to invoke the Convention.

It is worth noting that the Hague Convention is only a mechanism for returning a child who has been removed from their home country, not determining custody, and it only applies in signatory countries. Foreign countries are not necessarily bound to follow the provisions of a U.S. custody order, so if an international custody dispute arises, it is of the utmost importance to retain experienced legal counsel to navigate the complexities of the case and work toward a fair resolution.

Helping You Navigate Out-of-State Custody Issues

When you’re faced with complex custody issues in divorce, the right legal team is essential for preserving your rights and safeguarding your child’s well-being. As the largest firm focused exclusively on family law in Northern California, Hoover Krepelka has experienced attorneys specializing in custody cases, including international and out-of-state, who will work tirelessly on your behalf to reach the best possible outcome. To schedule a consultation, fill out the form below.


*The above is not meant to be legal advice, and every case is different. Feel free to reach out to us at Hoover Krepelka, LLP, if you have any questions. Information contained in this content and website should not be relied on as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice on your specific situation. 

Visiting this site or relying on information gleaned from the site does not create an attorney-client relationship. The content on this website is the property of Hoover Krepelka, LLP and may not be used without the written consent thereof.


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