Why Distance Is Important in Child Custody Decisions

Many factors influence a child custody decision. The economics of each parent, their work schedules, support outside the home, and more can affect a court’s decisions.

In California, custody is doled out in annual percentages. One parent gets the children for a certain portion of the year, and the other has the remaining portion. You may see parents sharing a split of 60/40, 75/25, etc.

One of the chief influences in a custody percentage is the distance between parents. Distance greatly affects the lives of both parents and children. Although California has no direct definition of “long-distance parenting,” the state typically considers a distance of 20 or more miles in its custody decisions.

In this article, we will discuss many ways that distance has a direct impact on coparenting.

Distance Impacts Schooling

When you think of a child’s education, it helps to view it as a 9 – 5 job. Although the hours are clearly different, the effect of those hours is the same. The kids must arrive at a certain time, five days a week, and they go home at the same time every day.

Now imagine your own job. Think of how your living decisions have been affected by the location of your work. Even if you work from home in this pandemic era, you likely have made decisions about where to live based on that work.

School, for kids, is no different. Being far away from campus creates a terrible burden on both them and the parents. Since busses don’t run that far out, parents have to take kids to school. That means getting up earlier and leaving earlier. At the best of times, it’s hard to get kids out the door for school, and that doesn’t change as they age.

Because of the kids’ educational needs, they probably need to stay in one home for their five-day school week, especially if one parent lives further away. Even weekends may need to be cut short. Most likely, there will be an assignment due on Monday, and the kids can’t be stressed over moving around when they should be working.

Distance Impacts Healthcare Concerns

All kids get sick from time to time, but if your children are mostly healthy, distance shouldn’t create too much of a problem. If you are the distant parent, and your child gets sick while visiting, you should have access to local doctors, walk-in clinics, etc.

Kids with chronic illnesses, special needs, or dangerous allergies need access to regular, immediate healthcare. Distance will, of course, create problems in this regard. This is another reason why a distant parent may have a smaller percentage of custody, as the kids need regular access to their familiar doctors.

As the distant parent, you should have access to emergency supplies and care, and you probably do. For some kids, you will also need to be well-stocked on their maintenance supplies: prescriptions, special hygiene needs, medical devices, and so on.

This should be easy enough to manage, but distance can cause problems for kids who require continued treatment. They need access to their regular doctors, often visiting them throughout the workweek. As a distant parent, attempting to manage this may be impossible.

If you are at a great distance, and you see the kids only on holidays or vacations, you may also need a team of secondary doctors. Say you live states away, and you fly the kids out every year for summer vacation. That three-month window may be too long for some kids to go without a doctor visit. You will need to work closely with the doctors in your area, making sure they are in regular communication with your child’s “home” team. Everyone should be working together and freely sharing information back and forth.

Distance Affects Extracurricular Activities

For all the same reasons mentioned above, distance impacts your child’s ability to have their own lives. Extracurricular activities are associated with the school, and distance from that school makes it harder for your kids to participate. This is another reason why, as a distant parent, you should expect to have a lower percentage of custody

This does not even take other activities into account. Kids often live full lives, with nearby friends, church groups, family members, and so on. When you are the distant parent, having a greater degree of custody keeps your kids from these activities.

Even Closeness Causes Issues

Remember, California uses 20 miles as a general measurement of “long-distance” co-parenting. But even a distance of, say, 5 miles can cause problems. All of the aforementioned problems could still exist. Outside influences such as work schedules can be just as challenging as being far away.

Unless you live right next door to your ex, and the kids are free to run from one house to the other as they please, the lack of cohabitation is going to cause issues. A completely equal, 50/50 split is nearly impossible to manage. You should always be prepared to make sacrifices for your child, even if that sacrifice is time with that child.

Help Creating a Fair Custody Split

Leaving your divorce decisions to the courts can have painful results. They can make an unfair decision, and you have to live with it. Even when those decisions are reasonable, they are imposed on you. You have no say in the matter.

Whenever possible, it’s best to make divorce decisions outside of court. This requires the spouses to work together. Even in the most amicable of divorces, cooperation can be hard. We recommend using mediation to negotiate your custody split. A neutral, legal professional with extra psychological training will help you communicate with your spouse. They can help keep tempers low and keep the proceedings moving forward.

Even if you are confident that you can create a parenting plan alongside your spouse, you should run your final agreements by a lawyer. They can help you clarify any ambiguous decisions, and they can help you find parts to the agreement that you missed.


You should always think about what’s in the best interest of your child, first and foremost. If you live further away, be prepared to sacrifice some of your time with them and, therefore, a greater percentage of direct custody.

Always remember, visitation is also an option. Even if you can’t always have the direct possession and custody you want, you can still see the kids regularly. Visitation is specifically scheduled time with the kids, signed off by the courts. Once agreed upon, it is legally mandated. It cannot be blocked or hindered by the other parent.

It needn’t always be in person, either. Electronic visits are equally valid in the eyes of the law, and they are taken just as seriously. These visits include scheduled phone calls, video chats, and so on.

For help mediating a fair custody percentage, reach out to our firm for help. We can work with you and your spouse to negotiate a reasonable plan that is best for the kids. Schedule an appointment with us today by calling (949) 565-4158 or filling out an online contact form.