Half of all children born to married parents in the United States will experience a divorce in their family before they reach 18, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Thus, divorce courts nationwide are accustomed to handling child custody and visitation issues. Though state laws vary, courts generally make every effort to design a visitation arrangement that is in the best interests of the child, even when one parent lives a long distance away.
Typically, spouses can file for divorce in any state where they have lived for a certain period of time, as determined by state statute. However, a court’s authority, or jurisdiction, to hear a divorce case does not automatically give it the jurisdiction to hear child custody issues. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, passed by nearly every state, establishes separate jurisdiction standards for cases involving children. Generally, courts have jurisdiction in the state where the child has lived for at least six months. For example, if you and your child have lived in Colorado for at least six months but your spouse lives in Kansas, only the Colorado court has jurisdiction to decide custody and visitation issues. Although your spouse could file for divorce in Kansas, the Kansas court may not have the power to decide how you and your spouse will split time with your children.
Best Interests of Child
If you and your spouse cannot agree about how to share visitation time with your child, the court will make this decision for you. Courts strive to find a custody and visitation schedule that is in the best interests of your child. Generally, courts presume it is in the best interests of children to spend time with both parents, even when the parents live far apart from each other. This standard does not necessarily consider the parents’ convenience or what arrangement might be in each parent’s best interests. Instead, the court is concerned with the best arrangement for the child, often using factors created by state laws to decide what is best for each child.
Since the situations of many divorcing parents are similar, many courts have designed default parenting schedules. These schedules set visitation times that work for most families, such as alternating holidays or school breaks between parents. Since a visitation arrangement that might work for parents who live a few blocks apart won’t work for parents who live a few states apart, default schedules often contain separate rules for each type of living arrangement. Typically, courts order these schedules in standard divorce cases, but they can vary as necessary to protect the best interests of each child. For example, if a parent’s previous actions indicate it would be dangerous or unhealthy for a child to visit that parent, the court could order supervised visitation or could even take away visitation altogether.
Default schedules may contain a description of the transportation arrangements necessary to get the child back and forth between parents. Even if the court does not order parents to comply with a default schedule, parents generally benefit from having the transportation arrangements included in the court’s order. For example, if the parents live within a relatively short driving distance, the court could order them to meet halfway to exchange the child. If the distance between parents is 100 miles or more, and air transportation is more practical, the court could order the parents to split the cost of the flight. If either parent does not follow the visitation schedule or transportation arrangements as ordered, the court can enforce the order with fines and even jail time.