What You Need to Know About Long-Distance Parenting Plans

A mother and her child, who is holding a doll, walk down a dirt road

You and your spouse are calling it quits, and unfortunately, your children are in the middle of it all. To make matters even more complicated, one of you will be moving away, which means your children can’t easily see you both from one week to the next.

What now? Specifically, how can the parent who moves far away keep the parent-child relationship strong? Can long-distance parenting work?

Continue reading for my insights on what you need to know about effective long-distance parenting plans in California.


When faced with long-distance co-parenting, not just any parenting agreement will do. Instead, a creative plan that satisfies each parent’s unique living situation is mandatory.
To start, consider every factor that can impact long-distance parenting. For instance, how old are your children, and how mature are they for their ages? 
After all, a parenting plan that may work for a teen would not necessarily work for a 2-year-old child. In addition, not all teenagers may be mature enough to fly alone between their parents’ homes.


Raising children from afar is challenging. However, you can create a long-distance parenting plan that is effective and beneficial for everyone. Infants and toddlers require regular contact. Bonding and attachment at this stage sets the foundation for future behaviors, even from a distance. 
In contrast, school-aged children must balance academic commitments and quality time with both parents. Adolescents and teenagers may face emotional challenges that require sensitive handling and consistent involvement from both parents. 
As children grow, their needs evolve—a well-crafted long-distance custody schedule should reflect this. Adapt the arrangements to suit their changing needs, ensuring stability across different developmental stages. 
That can mean adjusting visitation schedules or communication methods as your child grows. Remember, the goal is more than fulfilling legal obligations but to foster a meaningful, loving relationship with your child, regardless of the miles that separate you.


Healthcare forms a significant aspect of any long-distance parenting plan. Access to necessary medical services should be a given, irrespective of where each parent resides. That includes routine check-ups, emergency care, and managing any special health conditions. Both co-parents must efficiently coordinate medical appointments and emergencies, ensuring the child can receive care when necessary. 

A long-distance co-parenting arrangement should contain explicit healthcare provisions. These might encompass matters like insurance coverage and who holds the decision-making authority regarding health matters. For children with special medical needs, these provisions are a higher priority. 

Effective communication is necessary for sharing medical updates and information. Utilize methods that work for both parents, always keeping your child at the forefront. If uncertainties arise, seeking legal guidance can clarify healthcare-related aspects of your long-distance parenting plan, ensuring all bases are covered. 


Education is a cornerstone of child development and vital for any effective long-distance parenting plan. Despite the geographical divide, both parents should collaborate on impactful educational decisions, ensuring access to quality learning opportunities throughout each phase of schooling. 
That includes active participation in school-related activities or events and addressing academic challenges. Distance need not be a barrier to supporting the learning journey. With technology, remote involvement in parent-teacher conferences and school meetings is commonplace. 
Make the necessary adjustments to stay informed and engaged. As your child grows, their educational needs will change. Recognize this and prepare to adapt your parenting plan when shifts occur. 
Remember, long-distance parenting is not an excuse to become a passive observer of educational performance. Active, consistent involvement can help the child thrive academically, fostering a sense of support and unity despite the miles.  


More often than not, when visitation time arrives, it means a break for the primary parent. However, when formulating long-distance parenting plans, never forget about childcare. The geographical divide between parents necessitates careful planning and coordination. 
Responsibilities and expenses related to childcare should be clearly defined. Ambiguity leads to issues when expected supervision differs from actual conditions. Temporary caregivers or childcare providers may come into play. Here, it becomes vital to establish guidelines concerning their roles, responsibilities, and child safety during visitation periods. 
Creating a support network can be invaluable for long-distance custody schedules. Trusted friends, family members, or professionals can assist when needed, ensuring your child always has the care they need. Above all, these arrangements establish the necessary guidance to protect the best interests and preferences of the child. 
Long-distance co-parenting may be complex, but with careful planning and open communication, you can ensure your child feels loved, safe, and supported, no matter how many miles separate you. 


Another impactful factor to consider when creating a long-distance parenting plan is how far apart the two parents are. If you can drive to the other parent’s house, then parenting time that is semi-monthly or monthly may work. 
Meanwhile, this might not be realistic if the other parent lives hours away by plane. In addition, frequent flights may not work if you or the other party doesn’t have the financial means to handle this.


Let’s say that your child has a developmental need. You will need to make sure that your parenting plan reflects this. For example, your child may not handle travel or changes to their routine well. In this situation, the other parent may have to travel to your child versus having your child travel to them every time.


The next factor to include in your long-distance parenting plan is how you and the other parent will handle visitation. For instance, your plan should spell out how often the other parent and your child will see each other. Also, how much time will your child spend with the co-parent? 
Remember—visitation will look different during the academic year than during a school break such as summer. In addition, discuss how you’ll handle vacations and holidays. Also, spell out how much advance notice is necessary to schedule or change an existing visitation schedule.


Creating the perfect long-distance co-parenting schedule that will work well for all parties requires foresight and patience. 
Here are a few questions to ask yourself and the other party when working on long-distance parenting plans in California.
  • With whom will your child spend school vacations?
  • Are there special holidays you or the other parent plan to keep your child?
  • How much advance notice (e.g., 14 days) should the parent without custody give the parent with custody before paying a visit to the child?
  • Should both parents have private phone calls with the child, or should every call be monitored?
  • If your child has a long visitation period with the other parent during the summer months, should they return home a week before the first day of school to settle in?
  • If the other parent lives in another country, do both of your countries recognize Hague Convention Agreements? Also, will safety or passports be a problem?
  • Also, consider the following tips for addressing transportation requirements as you create your long-distance co-parenting schedule:
  • Determine which parent will drive the child when it’s time for a visit. Consider meeting halfway to exchange your child to make visit-related travel easier.
  • If flying is required, determine who will fly with the child if they are not old enough to fly independently.
  • Figure out who will pay for travel expenses or if you will divide the travel expenses. In some cases, the parent who moved away is the one who will absorb the costs.


When preparing a long-distance custody schedule, both parties must determine how they will handle communication when executing the plan. 
For instance, you could use email, video chats, or phone calls to keep in touch with your child while spending time with the other parent. Also, consider how frequently you and your child will communicate when you are apart.


Long-distance parenting plans require a commitment that goes beyond logistical matters. Good communication directly impacts emotional states well into the future. Attachment strengthens when relationships remain in a positive state. 
Regardless of past occurrences, respect each other’s time to establish a sense of security in your child. Refrain from arguing with your ex or having the child play detective. 
The goal is to help them develop trust in others and encourage positive emotional and social adjustment. Incorporating these elements in your long-distance parenting approach not only benefits your co-parenting relationship, but more importantly, contributes significantly to self-esteem. 
Remember—every conversation, message, and call plays a part in strengthening your bond with your child, irrespective of the miles that separate you. 


Finalizing terms and conditions can understandably be challenging, especially if both parties don’t readily see eye to eye on how to handle child custody and visitation. However, hastily preparing a long-distance parenting plan can make things even more complicated for parents and their children in the future.
The good news? I, family law attorney Michael C. MacNeil, can help you create an agreement that appeases both parties. I realize that long-distance custody schedules can have long-term effects, so I will ensure the child’s best interests and your rights remain the top priorities during all stages of the negotiation process.
Contact me today to learn more about handling long-distance co-parenting. I’ll help you make a smooth transition and get the most out of your situation in the years ahead.

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About Michael MacNeil

Michael C. MacNeil is a San Diego Family Law and Criminal Defense attorney. With a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, MacNeil has a solid understanding of our justice system. As a member of the State Bar of California, MacNeal can practice before all courts in the state. MacNeil believes that the law should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. With over 20 years of experience, Michael C. MacNeil is passionate about the law and will work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you. Call Mr. MacNeil at 858-922-7098.