When divorced parents move far away from the other parent, it is ultimately their child that pays a significant price. Typically parents and professionals are simply concerned about the amount of parenting time and the length of time between visits. They assume Face Time, Skyping, texting and calling will make it all ok. However, the cost is much greater than the loss of frequent face to face contact.
For example, consider a mother of an elementary age son who chooses to move several states away to be closer to her family of origin. Yes, the child will have access to the extended family in the new state but he will experience many more losses being away from his other parent. For example:
- Limited Parenting Time: The child’s contact with his father will likely be cut in half or even more. Any midweek visits will be eliminated. Even alternating weekends may be too much of a burden to travel, leaving most months with minimal or no parenting time at all.
- Travel and Accommodations: It not uncommon for the noncustodial parent to be responsible to travel to the child on weekend visitation. This will require the inconvenience and expense of needing to book a hotel room and rent a car, just to spend time with his son. Although at first it may be fun staying in a hotel and eating out every meal, however, soon the child it will grow tired of this unnatural routine.
- Children Traveling: Extended weekends and holidays will likely require the child to drive or fly very long distances to their parent’s home. For children old enough to fly alone this may be frightening for some children no matter their age. Some parenting plans even require the child to travel on important holidays like Christmas Day without consideration of the impact on the child.
- Unknown City: Dad may not know the layout of the new city which may limit his ability to find things to entertain his son.
- Loss of Natural Parenting Time: The son will not witness his father on a day-to-day basis. In a hotel he will not be able to help his father cook dinner, set the table, do the laundry, teach chores or even run boring errands. The father’s time will become “entertainment time” rather than typical father/son time.
- Possessions: The father will not be able to carry favorite books, board games, footballs etc. to the hotel which leaves the child having to carry items back and forth from his mother’s home assuming she will allow this. This encourages spoiling by having to take him places for entertainment or when money is tight, stay in the hotel to watch movies, or play on electronics.
- Sports and Extracurricular Activities: Dad will not be able to continue to coach his son’s ball team nor will he be able to attend all the games and likely not be able to take him to any team practices.
- Midweek Activities: Father will not be able to attend parent-teacher meetings, PTA meetings or his son’s school activities and award ceremonies. He will not be able to attend an occasional school lunch with his son, participate in a school party or attend field trips with his son’s class.
- Disconnect from Child’s Social Network: Father will no longer know his son’s friends or the families of the friends making it uncomfortable to invite his son’s friends to have a sleep over at the hotel.
- Opportunity to Teach: Father will not have a backyard or a workbench out of town. Teaching opportunities are extremely limited when living in a hotel room. Learning skills such as woodworking, crafts, or learning to ride a bike will likely never be part of the out of town visits. Nor will dad have household responsibilities to share with the child
- Disconnection from Child’s Adult Influence: Father will not have the opportunity to know his son’s teachers, physician, piano teacher or other adults in his son’s life.
- Birthdays: Father will not be able to spend his son’s birthday with him unless it is during the summer or happens to fall on his weekend. Most likely the child’s “peer” birthday parties will not include his father’s participation.
- Loss of Step Family and Siblings: If father has a wife and step children or there are new siblings, the son will have limited contact except over extended vacation periods.
- Loss of Pet: If dad has a pet that he cannot bring on visits this will be difficult on his son.
- Worship: If father typically worships with his son, he will not have a home church or synagogue in the new town. Mother may not want them to worship where she attends, leaving the father completely disconnected from his son’s spiritual community.
- Summer Activities: Since father may have his son for the bulk of the summer, this will disturb the child’s social activities such as being on his neighborhood swim team or going to camp with his local friends. Soon his son will not want to go out of town to visit his father unless of course dad can afford to fill the summer with trips to Disney Land, the beach or other fun locations.
Sadly this list can go on and on. Unfortunately, most parents do not fully think this decision through and consider all the many ways in which this plays out. Of course there are situations in which a parent may not have any choice in the matter or relocating, such as when they cannot secure a job in their community. Ideally parents would do everything they could to avoid disconnecting their child’s life in this manner. When parents have a good co-parenting relationship some of these problems could be minimized by keeping the father connected by way of email with all the people in their son’s life.
When it is not possible to avoid relocating then the parents should at least have some serious negotiations around ways to increase parenting time and take the financial burden off the parent left behind. If they are in a state that determines child support based upon the number of overnights this may also need to be adjusted. The moving parent needs to recognize and be sensitive to the loss they are causing to the other parent and to their own child. They need to tell their child are sorry this is happening but they are doing the best they can. Only time will tell how the child will reflect back upon the move and all the losses associated with this parental decision.
Susan Boyan, LMFT