International Divorce and Parenting Across Borders
Today, we live in a global society where international marriages and divorces are increasingly prevalent.
While international marriage may no longer work, the international family is forever. This article will address the parenting and relocation issues unique to international couples going through a divorce.
It is not unusual for one or both parents to relocate after divorce – in fact, at least one spouse has to move in order to become separated. For parents who each have ties to the community through work and family, such a move is likely to be no further than across town. But in international families and for those working in international careers, a relocation can put continents and seas between parents and their children.
In contested custody cases, relocation is among the most difficult issues for courts to grapple with and outcomes have enormous impacts on the family. Courts consider what is in the child’s “best interest.” But it is not always clear what is in a child’s best interest. And to further complicate matters, what is in the child’s best interest is often intertwined with what is in the parents’ best interest. For example, a parent returning to her homeland where she has the support of her family and community could be better for the child (as well as for the parent). On the other hand, maintaining proximity to both parents is also in the best interest of the child (as well as in the interest of the other parent).
The problem is that courts are not the best deciders of what is in a child’s best interest.
It’s no surprise that I recommend that parents talk through the important issues and decide, themselves, what will work best for their family. Parents can begin by identifying their long-term hopes and visions for their child and for their restructured family.
Here are issues at the top of the list:
- What are the logistics?
- How do travel expenses get covered?
- What frequency of travel is appropriate? Or possible?
- What is the level of trust between parents?
- How to address fears that a parent might fail to return the child?
- How does the political and governmental climate impact the child’s safety?
Long Distance Access:
- What access will the child have to cell phone and Skype?
- How often?
- How can differences in time zones be accommodated?
- Does the long-distant parent have a say in decision-making about the child’s activities? If so, how?
- Are there schools that can provide what the child needs?
- How are disabilities accommodated?
- Does the long-distant parent have a say in the decisions about the child’s schooling and medical care? If so, how?
- Is it important for the child to retain both parents’ native tongues?
- What options or support is available to make that possible?
Child’s Sense of Belonging:
- How can the child sustain a relationship with both parents’ cultures?
- How will the child’s sense of “where home is” be impacted?
My next post will look at how one international couple was able to resolve these issues in mediation and create a parenting plan that worked.