Child Custody When Parents Live in Different States

Child custody proceedings are never easy. They can be especially difficult when the parents live in different states. This situation raises questions about what is best for the child. The goal is to come to a custody arrangement that allows the child to maintain a strong relationship with both parents, regardless of distance. 

We understand that, as a parent, you do not want to miss out on any part of your children’s life. This is especially true when they are young. Even when one parent is living in a different state from the other, it is still possible to create a favorable child custody agreement. 

Brown Family Law has years of experience helping parents through the child custody mediation process. While our lawyers are skilled at representing clients in court, we prefer to help them negotiate a mutually beneficial custody arrangement by means of mediation whenever possible. 

If you are facing a child custody case with the other parent in another state, our legal team is here to help. Contact Brown Family Law today. Call us 24/7 at 801-685-9999 to schedule a no-obligation, legal consultation. 

Child Custody Agreements Defined

According to a report from the US Census Bureau, there were around 22 million children who have one parent living outside of their household. These children represented about one-fourth of all children in the US under 21 years of age.

When parents choose to divorce or live separately from each other, they must make decisions about how they are going to continue to parent their children. The legal term “child custody” describes the guardianship and relationship between a parent and child. Depending on the family’s situation, there are different types of custody agreements. 

What if the parents are unable to come to an agreement between the two of them? The judge will decide which custody agreement is best for the child. 

Sole legal custody

The parent given sole legal custody has the right to make important decisions about the child’s care. 

This includes decisions such as:

  • Healthcare: The parent decides whether the child receives vaccinations. The sole custody parent will also decide what doctor the child visits, whether the child attends therapy, and other important medical decisions. 
  • Schooling: The parent will decide where the child will attend school and whether the child needs an after-school tutor. The parent will also decide whether the child should be in special classes and other decisions regarding education. 
  • Extracurricular activities: The parent with legal custody decides whether the child participates in music, sports, art, or other extracurricular activities.
  • Religious instruction: This includes decisions about whether the child is to receive religious instruction, and, if so, what type of religious services and classes he or she attends. 

Joint legal custody

Joint or shared custody is when both parents share legal custody of the child. Under this custody arrangement, both parents have an equal say in important decisions made in the child’s life. The parents must discuss and agree upon decisions that have a major impact on their child. 

It is often the case that married parents will make important decisions together about their child. When they divorce or separate, the judge typically likes to keep this arrangement if both parties are fit parents. 

A joint custody arrangement may work well depending on your family’s situation. It may be beneficial if you and your ex-spouse get along well and agree on how to raise your child. Joint custody will not be ideal, however, if you and your ex-spouse do not agree on important decisions about your child. 

Sole physical custody

Physical custody establishes where the child will live most of the time. Typically, one parent has primary physical custody, while the other parent has secondary physical custody. 

When determining whom the child lives with primarily, the state court will consider various factors. Most judges will place great importance on who has been the child’s primary caregiver up until this point. 

Whoever is given primary physical custody can make a difference in child custody disputes when one parent wants to move out of state. 

Joint physical custody

Joint physical custody means the child spends a large amount of time living with both parents. 

A joint custody agreement could work if the following is true:

  • Both parents agree that it is in the best interests of the child
  • There is no history of domestic violence or child abuse
  • The parents have an amicable relationship and generally agree on major child-rearing decisions, and;
  • Parents live close enough to each other for joint custody to work logistically

Children will generally do better if both parents can remain very involved in their lives. Yet, joint physical custody may not be best for the child’s welfare when a parent relocates to a different state. It may be difficult for the child to move from one state to the other for only short periods of time. 

Filing for Custody When Parents Live in Different States

Parents must follow state guidelines and laws when creating a child custody plan. When the parents live in different states, one of the states will have jurisdiction over the custody arrangements. 

It is best if you and the other parent can agree on which state to file the custody plan in. Then you can work together to develop a parenting plan that is in agreement with that state’s guidelines. 

What if parents cannot agree on which state to file the parenting plan in? The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) will decide who has jurisdiction. 

What Is the UCCJEA?

One of the main purposes of the UCCJEA is to ensure that one parent cannot move a child to another state to avoid a custody or child visitation order.

Under the UCCJEA one state is in charge of making and modifying a child custody order for a case. This state is referred to as the child’s “home state.” It will maintain jurisdiction over his or her case even if a parent has moved. 

In some situations, parents cannot agree on which state has jurisdiction. A judge will then decide which state is the child’s “home state” based on UCCJEA guidelines. Generally, the “home state” is where the child lived for at least 6 consecutive months before the start of the child custody proceeding. 

If the child has not resided in a state for 6 consecutive months, then the judge will look at what state the child has “significant connections” in. The courts would decide the home state based on evidence that the child’s present and future care, protection, training, and personal relationships are based in that state.

Creating an Interstate Child Custody Agreement

After deciding which state has jurisdiction over your custody arrangements, you and the other parent can begin preparing your parenting plan and visitation schedule. The parenting plan should outline how you and the other parent will continue to care and provide for your child while residing in separate states. 

Parents will likely want to consider the following factors when deciding on the best plan for all parties involved:

  • Duration of each visit: While it is natural for the out-of-state parent to want to see his or her child every weekend at least, it is important to consider how this could interrupt a child’s schoolwork and social schedule. If you and your child are spending many hours each week traveling between states, this could strain your relationship and cause stress for both of you. 
  • Transportation costs and logistics: You will need to decide how the child will travel between states. Will the child arrive by car, train, plane, or other transportation? It will also need to be determined who will pay for transportation and whether the child will be accompanied by a guardian or will be traveling alone. 
  • Communication with the other parent: Come up with a plan as to how often and when the child will be able to call or video chat with one parent while staying with the other. It is important to plan out what time of day the child can speak to the other parent, as this helps keep the lines of communication flowing freely within the family. 
  • Decisions about holidays and school breaks: Parents should discuss and agree upon where their children will spend holidays, summer vacations, and other special days. When this is decided ahead of time, children will know what to expect as these days approach. 
  • Application of home state custody laws: Parents should consider whether any child custody laws apply to their situation while forming their visitation schedules. A divorce attorney can help you understand the family laws in your state as well as whether any regulations affect your custody schedule.

Visitation Schedules for Parents Living in Different States

Generally, when parents do not live in the same state, the child will live with one parent and visit the other. The visits with the out-of-state parent are usually less frequent but for a longer duration than in a traditional child custody arrangement. 

It is never easy to share custody when parents live in different states. A planned visitation schedule can make the arrangement easier for the whole family. 

Consider the following examples of visitation schedules for parents living in different states: 

  • The child visits the out-of-state parent every weekend, every other weekend, or 1 weekend a month
  • The child stays with the out-of-state parent for long weekends during school breaks
  • The child spends the school year with one parent and summer break with the other 
  • The child visits the out-of-state parent for 1 week every 2 to 3 months

Oftentimes, parents use a combination of these options or begin with one schedule and then adjust it over time. For example, it might be the initial plan for the child to spend summer break with the parent who lives out of state. Yet, that parent might also visit during some weekends or holidays throughout the school year. 

Contact a Utah Child Custody Lawyer Today

Utah law stipulates that a custodial parent cannot move more than 150 miles from the non-custodial parent’s home without obtaining permission from the court or the non-custodial parent. Additionally, the parent who intends to move must give the other parent at least a minimum of 60 days’ notice that he or she intends to move that far away. 

Has your ex-spouse relocated to another state? If so, Brown Family Law can help you protect your parental rights. Our lawyers try to resolve issues through the mediation process without resorting to litigation – for your peace of mind.

Contact Brown Family Law today if you have questions about your child custody agreement. We can tell you how Utah custody laws apply to your situation and help you create the ideal parenting plan. Our goal is for you to maximize your time with your kids while having your rights protected.

Call us at 801-685-9999 or complete the contact form to schedule a family law consultation and case evaluation.

Published On: April 20th, 2023Categories: Child CustodyComments Off on Child Custody When Parents Live in Different States
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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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