Long Distance and Out of State Visitation

Coping with long distance and out of state visitation issues is becoming more common as people relocate after their divorce. While a standard visitation schedule is not practical in these situations, there are ways to enable quality contact with the non-custodial parent.

Visitation times might include fall and spring breaks, part of the Christmas vacation, and extended visitation during the summer vacation. You can also come to an agreement concerning Thanksgiving and Easter, such as the child getting to spend alternate holidays with each parent.

Transportation methods and costs for out of state visitation are something that should be decided on in advance. By adding this information to your parenting plan, you can help prevent confusion and disagreements later down the road.

If you and your ex will live relatively close to each other, both of you can drive half-way to exchange your child.

If a longer distance is involved, flying is the most logical approach if your child is old enough. Generally, airlines won't let children under the age of 5 fly alone, so an adult will have to accompany the child in these instances.

For more information about long-distance visitation, read the following questions and answer:

Out of State Visitation FAQs

How is long distance visitation handled?

Marie's Question: If we get divorced, I want to move to Texas to live with my mother. My husband would want to move to Pennsylvania to live with his family. How would visitation work if we live hundreds of miles from each other? I can't picture sending my two toddlers on a plane to spend summers with him.

Brette's Answer: Visitation can work lots of ways. You work out a visitation plan for summers and holidays and plan on regular phone contact as well as Skype. If you can't afford the travel, then it has to be a shared expense, or he can fly down and stay with them. You could both drive and meet halfway. When they are older they could fly to him. You have to commit to helping them have a relationship with him which may mean some inconvenience for you.

What if he's restricted from taking the kids out of state without my permission?

Rebecca's Question: I have sole physical custody and our court order states the specific drop off and pick up location for visitation, as well as stating the children are not to leave this state without written permission from the other parent. He moved out of state and is now telling me that I am responsible for paying for half of their air fare and that he doesn't need any permission because this is his holiday rotation year. Do I have to send the children to him or does he need to follow the order and pick them up and drop them off at the designated area?

Brette's Answer: Based on what you said is in your order, your children cannot go out of state with him unless you agree and you are only required to get them to the stated drop off/pick up point. If he wants to take them out of state and you don't agree, he needs to get the order modified.

What is a reasonable visitation schedule for long distances?

Karen's Question: Our children are 7 and 11 and I am preparing to move to another state where my family is. What do I propose as a reasonable visitation schedule?

Brette's Answer: You just need to work out a plan you are both comfortable with. Plan to share school breaks and give him a big chunk of time in the summer. You could also say he is allowed to visit them whenever he is in your area. Make plans for virtual visits by Skype, instant message, cell phone, and web cams. You can allow him access to school and medical records and personnel so he can stay involved. You need to consider who is responsible for transportation. Good luck.

What is a reasonable visitation plan if the father lives in Hawaii?

Em's Question: I want to relocate from Hawaii to the mainland with my 10 month old son. I need to put together a proposed visitation plan for an upcoming hearing, what would be a reasonable proposal?

Brette's Answer: Skype, phone calls, photos, etc. will be important, but you also need to provide in person visitation. You could say he is welcome to visit any time and you could also say the child will go there once or twice a year. I would suggest you talk with an attorney in the area, since I imagine this is a common scenario in Hawaii, and he or she can tell you what judges like to see.

Who pays for phone calls if one parent lives far away?

Beth's Question: My step son lives with us, his mother is in another state and her visitation is "as agreed upon". In the court document it states she is afforded a phone call to him every Wed. night - do we have to provide the phone for her to call or can we make her send a pre-paid phone to him?

Brette's Answer: It looks pretty stingy and uncooperative if you refuse to allow her to call your home or cell to talk to him. If you went to court the judge would certainly order you to allow him to take calls on your phone.

Would visitation be for weeks at a time if he moved far away?

Bonnie's Question: Me and my ex were never married, but have a 4 year old daughter. He has spent time with her on weekends on and off for the last 6 months- at my home. He has now moved to another state and wants to have her for two weeks to introduce her to his family. She's never been away from me for more than two days and I feel she is too little to be away from her home. I need some guidance please.

Brette's Answer: If you don't have a custody and visitation order, now is the time to get one. Until you have one, it is difficult to protect yourself.

At some point, she is going to be old enough to spend extended visitation with her dad. The way to start is to start slowly and gradually. Two weeks is a very long time for a 4 year old. One or two nights would be the best way to gradually introduce this, if that is possible. Children of this age often spend that amount of time with grandparents, so it isn't unreasonable to do so with a parent. Try to work with him to find a way to develop their relationship so that everyone will feel comfortable with overnight visits. And remember that just because you're uncomfortable with the idea doesn't mean that your daughter would be.

How far is too far before long distance visitation would kick in?

Erika's Question: My 4 year old daughter's father lives 4 1/2 hours away in another state. He has visitation every other weekend. As of right now we meet half way. This is really taking a toll on my daughter, me, and my car. She does not want to go see him so I argue with her every other weekend. How far is too far before long distance visitation would kick in?

Brette's Answer: That's a long way for such frequent visits. I could see maybe every third weekend, or once a month for an extended length. If she's 4, she's not in school yet, so maybe you could do a 4 or 5 day visit once a month? There are lots of alternatives. Frequent phone calls could be added in or they could Skype. Longer summer and vacation visits too are another way to make up for reducing the weekend visits. If he won't agree, you can seek to modify this and use his move as the reason. It sounds like a reasonable argument.

Is time spent flying counted towards the visitation time?

Danya's Question: I have full custody of my 3 year old son and we live in Maine while my ex lives in Seattle. My ex has his first long vacation with my son coming up. He wants to fly back with my son on the red eye and have our son picked up when he arrives so that he isn't "charged" the visitation day. Are the days that a child is returned from vacation on a red eye flight counted as a day of visitation?

Brette's Answer: Perhaps the best way to resolve this is to ask yourself if you would consider this to be time spent with your child if the situation were reversed.

Would the court approve long-distance visitation for a toddler?

May's Question: My child's father lives about 4 hours away. He wants to modify visitation so that it occurs where he lives. I am not agreeing to this as it is too much traveling for a child that is only 19 months old. I am not preventing the father from seeing the child, but he should come here to do so. Is there any chance the father will win this case?

Brette's Answer: The court will consider all the factors - such as how frequent the visits are, what kind of relationship the father and child have, and what has been the plan up until now. I agree that four hours is a long way for a one and a half year old, however, if it was once a month, it might not be a problem, particularly if transportation times can coincide with nap times.

Will my toddler have to fly to visit his dad if he doesn't know him?

Diane's Question: I just found out my son's father is moving to Florida. He has only seen his son once over a year ago. What are the chances of him attempting to get visitation and my son having to visit him? My son is only 14 months old.

Brette's Answer: Your child is too young to go away to stay with a parent he doesn't know. They need to build a relationship together. It is likely some visitation will be set up, but your son is so young he wouldn't have to fly to FL, unless a parent was to accompany him. More likely, your ex would be able to come and visit him in your location and spend time with him there. Frequency will probably depend on his schedule.

Can I prevent out of state visitation if he's been absent for 8 years?

Misty's Question: I am going through a custody battle with my ex over our 16 and 13 year old children. Their father has not seen them in 8 years, and now all of the sudden he wants to see them because he says that he is dying. He is a convicted criminal and so is his wife. The divorce papers states that he gets them every other weekend and different holidays. What can I do? I am very worried about letting my children go with them to another state.

Brette's Answer: Go to family court and ask for a modification that does not allow him to leave the state with them and which reduces visitation or makes it supervised.

What if my ex won't allow our son to fly by himself?

Erica's Question: My ex and my son live in Texas, and I moved to Wisconsin to be near my family. Our son is now 9 and I want to buy him a plane ticket to come here for our visitation. His dad won't allow him to fly alone, claiming he isn't mature enough to fly by himself. I have talked to my son about it and he says he will be alright and I believe he is ready. Can I do anything to get my ex-husband to allow my son to fly here so that we have more time together?

Brette's Answer: If your ex will not agree (and if you help him understand the assistance airlines will provide to minors I think he might agree), your only choice is to go to court to ask to have your visitation enforced with provision that your child can fly alone.

Who is responsible for transportation if it isn't in the decree?

Faith's Question: The judge signed the decree and stated that I get physical custody and my ex gets visitation every weekend. He lives 4 hours away. Whose responsibility is it to bring the kids and get the kids? It wasn't in the decree.

Brette's Answer: If the decree did not state it and you cannot agree, then you can go file for a modification asking the court to clarify transportation.

Who pays for getting the children back and forth?

Nickki's Question: My ex is moving to another state we are agreeing to the visitation times but who has to pay the cost of getting the children back and forth?

Brette's Answer: It depends on your situation. Sometimes the costs are shared. Sometimes one parent is responsible. It usually depends on your financial situation, as well as who moved away from whom.

Can temporary orders to split costs be changed in the final decree?

Jeanne's Question: During my temporary orders for a divorce the judge told me I had to pay half the transportation costs for our child to visit her father. How do I change that for the final hearing?

Brette's Answer: If you do not have an attorney, then you need to tell the judge what you are asking for, and make this one of the things you want. You should show that your ex is more financially able to pay for the costs of transportation and that your financial situation is difficult.

Can we modify visitation due to the high travel costs?

Beth's Question: I live in Hawaii and my ex-husband lives on the mainland, but I can't afford the tickets to fly them to see their father. I want to know how often the kids have to go to the mainland on a standard plan and how long are the standard visits.

Brette's Answer: You would look to your custody orders to determine the visits and financial responsibility for them. It's likely you would alternate holidays and he would get some extensive time in the summer. As far as changing the schedule you've got to either get him to agree or go to court for the change.

What if I can't pay half the transportation if he lives overseas?

Karrie's Question: My ex-husband has now remarried and is moving to England. We are supposed to each pay half the travel costs. I certainly can't afford to pay for half the cost to send my daughter to England. Now he is threatening to take me to court, but I cannot afford a lawyer. What are my options?

Brette's Answer: Explain all of this to the judge. You're not opposed to visitation, but the cost.

Can he file for a violation if we mutually agreed to change visitation?

Question: In our divorce agreement 3 years ago, my ex had visitation rights every other weekend. We always met halfway until he moved to another state 9 months later. At that point, we decided that he would see our son a few weeks each summer and during school vacations at his parent house in NH. He recently moved back to NH and now he is threatening to bring me to court for contempt of the original court order. We have both gone along with our agreement for almost 3 years and now he is trying to get me in trouble for this, when he agreed to it. Do I go to the court and try to have the order modified?

Brette's Answer: You can cross-file for modification. The fact that you haven't followed this order, by mutual agreement, for several years means he doesn't have much to stand on. You need to explain your change in circumstances and ask for a schedule you can follow. Good luck.

Would a once-monthly hotel visit be a reasonable solution?

Dee's Question: My ex lives 4 1/2 hours away. I am the custodial parent and the only visitation spelled out in our divorce decree is that he shall have "reasonable" visitation. Because he left our daughters (ages 4 and 7) alone in his studio apartment while he went out, they will no longer stay overnight at his house. Now he comes here for visitation, but has made no provisions for another place to take the kids so they spend long hours hanging out. I feel it is quite reasonable to say that he can see them once a month for a full weekend and that he can secure a hotel room for that visit. Is this a reasonable expectation? It seems like he should be responsible for providing a safe and comfortable place for them to visit.

Brette's Answer: Since you have no spelled out visitation, you can do whatever the two of you agree upon. If he doesn't agree, he can file a petition for modification. I agree with your concerns, but you need to remember that with children of this age, quantity of visitation is also important. They need a father they see on a regular basis if possible. I think you're right not to take them to his location and I agree that when he comes to see them, he needs to have a plan, which could include an overnight in a hotel or at least something planned and organized. » Return to top

Can he get 6 weeks of visitation for every holiday?

Debbie's Question: I have a 4 year old son and his father lives in another state. He thinks because my son is starting school that the summer vacations should be his. My son won't be out of preschool until June 3rd and my ex is telling me he wants visitation from May 15th until July 30th. He also thinks Thanksgiving and Christmas should be 6 week visits too. There are no court orders because I thought we would be able to work it out. Can you tell me the guidelines for this?

Brette's Answer: There are no guidelines. Whatever works best for each family and is in the best interest of the child is what the court orders. It sounds like you need to work together to come up with a plan that will work around your child's school schedule. It would not be appropriate to take your child out of school for visitation, so you will need to work together to create a schedule that takes that into consideration. How often he should see your child would depend in part on how often he has seen him in the past, so start with that as a guideline.

Would a judge make me meet him half way for visitation?

Kim's Question: My husband and I are in the process of divorce. He lives in Florida and I live in Georgia with our child. Now he wants me to travel half way to meet him with our child every other weekend. Will the judge make me travel that distance or is it the father's responsibility?

Brette's Answer: It really depends on the circumstances. There is no hard and fast rule. How far it is, who can travel the easiest and who can afford it most are questions that will be considered.

Can I enforce the provision that he meet me halfway for visitation?

Lynn's Question: We have a court ordered visitation schedule and he is the custodial parent. We live in two different states, and according to our divorce decree, he is to meet me half way between the two cities every other time. He has refused to do so the last five times. He says it is because he had back surgery eight months ago (even though he drove to Las Vegas last month). If I take him to court, will the court uphold our decree?

Also, my teenage son is getting where he does not want to come because he can do what he wants at his dad's house but I have reasonable rules that he must follow. The dad takes his side and tells me the son is NOT coming. How does the non-custodial parent handle this when the visitation arises and the son refuses?

Brette's Answer: It sounds as though he is recovered from surgery and there is no reason he can't do the driving, so the court would uphold it. The problem is the child's attitude. You didn't say how old your son is. The older he is, the more weight his opinion carries. It is virtually impossible to enforce visitation with an older teen that is unwilling to go, although you can definitely try, particularly since you didn't give an age. If he's 13, you have a much better chance at enforcement than if he is 17. Good luck.

What can I do if he doesn't drive our son back like we agreed?

Elizabeth's Question: When my ex comes to get my son, he always agrees to bring him back *like stated in our agreement*. But the last two times he's had my son, I've had to go and get him. We live 8 hours apart. If he doesn't bring him back this time, it will have been the 3rd time this same situation has happened. I was wondering if I have any grounds to change our agreement.

Brette's Answer: You are required to do only what the court order says. If your agreement says he is to provide transportation to bring your son home, then he is in violation of that agreement. Go to court and file a petition for violation.

Would a judge change the order and require me to drive halfway?

Kathy's Question: We divorced two years ago and my daughter and I live about 3 hours away from my ex. I have neck injuries because of my husband's domestic violence and my doctor told me I need disk removal surgery. As a result, I cannot drive long distance. My husband currently is court-ordered to come to my house for visitation every Saturday. He is now requesting every other weekend, but wants me to meet him halfway. I am simply not able to do that right now physically. What will the judge likely tell me?

Brette's Answer: I don't think the court would change the order. You may need to present testimony from your doctor, but there's just no way this order would be changed requiring you to drive.

Can we change the location where we meet up so that it's fairer?

Hilary's Question: I received permission from the courts to move to a new state with my child. In the order I said that I could try and help out my daughter's father with driving to a certain location. However, driving that distant has caused a burden on me since my round trip is almost 6 hours and his is only about 2 hours. I asked him if I we could meet at a location that would be half way for both of us and pretty much said no. Do I need to go back court, or can I tell him that I will only meet at the half way point? Should I get a lawyer?

Brette Answers: If you can't agree, you can either file for a modification yourself or tell him what you're willing to do and wait for him to take you to court. If you can afford to do so, it looks better for you to seek the change. You want the custody order modified to specify a transfer point for visitation and to clarify transportation responsibilities.

Is the 25 mile stipulation for visitation each way or round trip?

Kari's Question: The transportation schedule says that if a parent moves more than 25 miles away, then they would have to provide all the transportation. But is that 25 miles each way, or round trip? The paperwork does not specify!

Brette's Answer: I would interpret that to mean more than 25 miles one way, but I don't know how the language is interpreted in your jurisdiction.

Do I have to pay for travel expenses if my ex moves?

Valerie's Question: My ex moved out of state and now wants me to pay for and make the travel arrangements for his visitation with the children. Is this considered reasonable and can I be penalized if I refuse? He isn't supporting us financially. The original orders states that the father pays for visitation. Will the court order me to pay for the out of state visitation?

Brette's Answer: Since he is the one who moved, I do not think a court would find it to be reasonable to expect you to pay for and arrange travel for your child, particularly since he does not pay child support.

Will I have to share increased travel expenses if my ex moves?

Anne's Question: Two summers ago my ex moved across the country for a job. Prior to the move, we had been meeting half way to allow for his visitation with our children. In our decree from nine years ago it said that we would share transportation costs. Now that he is half-way across the country that puts a burden on me in both money and time. Do I have to get a lawyer to change the decree?

Brette's Answer: If you want to change this and he does not agree, then you need to get the order modified. You don't necessarily need an attorney, but you do need to go back to court.

Will visitation change if he moves to another country?

Stacy's Question: The non-custodial parent wants weekend/summer visitations to occur as usual after he moves to Mexico. Do I have to allow this?

Brette's Answer: No. If he moves, it changes things. You can either negotiate a new plan - for example summer visits might work out but weekend visits on a regular basis might be harder, depending on where you live. If you can't agree, you'll need to return to court.

How is visitation set up if the Dad will be living in another country?

Celia's Question: My husband has been living with us in the US for about half of the year for the past 4 years. He says he will move back to his home country if we get a divorce. Obviously it would be difficult for the kids to be with him on the weekends. If he chooses to be there half the time and here half the time as he does now, how would custody be worked out? Would I have to send my kids out of the country to follow him?

Brette's Answer: You need to think creatively. Your husband could travel here and visit them for a period of time each year. You could plan for them to spend summers with him. They can talk on the phone, IM, email, and text each other to stay in touch. The key is to find a way for them to maintain a relationship while still allowing them to have a sense of permanency in one home.

Brette Sember - Legal Expert

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