An International Parenting Plan for Hannah
Eliza is an American, who works for an international aid agency. She is about to embark on a two-year assignment in Jordan.
Peter is German. He is an economist with plans to return to his home country to teach at a university.
Together, they are trying to work out custody for their six-year-old daughter, Hannah, before they move in different directions after their divorce.
It is important to note that Eliza and Peter do not have concerns about immigration issues. And, although their marriage is ending, they trust one another as parents and agree to comply with a mutually devised parenting agreement. Hence, this post will not address concerns about immigration or cross-border abduction that can arise when some international couples divorce. Even without these worries, however, I still recommend couples mediate their divorce and consult an attorney who specializes in international family law.
Eliza and Peter Use Mediation to Map Out a Parenting Plan
Eliza and Peter agree on a few steadfast premises: They are completely dedicated to their daughter and want what is best for her. And they do not want a judge to make decisions about their daughter for them.
What they don’t agree upon is what is in Hannah’s best interest, though they readily acknowledge fighting over custody would be harmful to their daughter, and ultimately, for all of them financially and emotionally.
Eliza: Hannah is loved and deeply cared for by both of us. She will grow up to be very sophisticated, smart, sensitive, and flexible, as a result of living abroad and being firmly immersed in her mother’s American and her father’s German cultures. But I know she can’t grow up in two different places at the same time. And I believe since Hannah is a girl, she belongs primarily with her mother. Beyond that, she needs to spend as much time as possible — summers and vacations — with her father. I expect that Peter and I always will have the means to attend all of Hannah’s major milestones, from graduation to her wedding.
Peter: I agree: We love Hannah and both want to be involved in raising her. I believe a child should grow up in one place, however, without moving every few years to a new country. I want Hannah to plant deep roots. I will be in one place, in Germany, where Hannah and I will be surrounded by extended family. As Hannah gets older, she will find it fascinating to visit her mother in the different countries where she could be living. And I hope Eliza visits our daughter in Germany as much as possible.
How to move forward then? Here’s where they agree:
- Hannah needs to be as safe as possible from war, terrorism, and/or local strife. Therefore when contemplating a move, Peter and Eliza will consult the State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS), for local conditions on safety and security.
- Hannah must have proper housing and good schools. After some discussion, Eliza and Peter agreed Germany and Jordan are sufficient. For homework, they researched area schools for the next mediation session.
- Hannah is bright, easy-going and readily makes friends. Her skills in English are strong and she understands German. She already has moved several times internationally and transitions well.
- Hannah will continue to learn both languages wherever she moves. Toward that goal, she will enroll in a language class or work with a private tutor. Whenever possible, Hannah will attend an international school for exposure to multiple cultures.
- The non-custodial parent will Skype several times a week with Hannah, who also can initiate calls herself. When she is 11, she will get her own cell phone or the equivalent.
After much discussion about the pros and cons of Hannah living in Germany, Jordan, or somewhere else in the world, Eliza and Peter arrive at the following key agreements:
- Hannah will live with Peter for the next two years, while Eliza lives in Jordan. During that time, Peter will fly Hannah to Washington, D.C., to spend her winter vacation with Eliza and Eliza’s family. Eliza will fly to Germany, retrieve Hannah, and take her to Jordan for summers.
- In August 2015, Eliza will return to Washington, D.C., and Hannah will join her. She will be eight years old at that point – still young enough, Eliza and Peter believe, to easily adjust to the move.
- At this point, Hannah will spend winter vacation and summers in Germany with her dad and any other times mutually agreed upon. Hannah will continue to study German.
- Eliza will stay in Washington, DC for a minimum of two years, though she is open to changing jobs in order to raise her daughter in the U.S.
- Hannah will not go on an overseas assignment with her mother, without her parent’s mutual agreement. If necessary, they will return to mediation to work out a mutually agreeable plan.
- Both parents will make all decisions about Eliza’s well-being together.
By following this strategy, Eliza and Peter believe they have designed a parenting plan that gives Hannah the best possible access to both parents. If either parent ever feels concerned, or if Hannah ever voices objections to the arrangements, Eliza and Peter agree they will consult appropriate professionals, and make decisions together about modifications to the parenting plan.
The agreement sounds plausible and amenable. What a blessing to have two caring parents, willing to put their differences aside in order to come up with something that works. It is frightening how often parents are unable or unwilling to come to resolutions like this one. Bravo! With the advances in technology, the possibilities for communication certainly are much greater than in the past, and taking advantage of this technology requires little effort. It allows for the impact of our decision to divorce to be lessened and therefor more tolerable. Without knowing all of the circumstances, which I am sure are extenuating, I do wonder if this couple has given complete consideration to the possibility of residing in, and finding employment in, the same location. My concern would be that as easy as technology makes the communication, it is not an equivalent replacement for physical presence. (It’s hard to hug an IPad.) My intent is not to judge Hanna’s situation but to make the point that making what might seem to be a difficult and perhaps illogical decision, like parents moving in and out of a common home rather than having the child carry that weight, and or letting go of a lucrative position, needs to be a serious part of these kinds of decisions and ultimately might be the choice that is best for the child. Thank you for your article. It is poignant and has inspired and solidified my thoughts.