The theme of lovers separated by an ocean is a classic and often poignant element in literature, art, and real-life stories—evoking a range of emotions, including longing, excitement, and resilience. But what if being separated by a great distance is a benefit to you but leads to certain issues regarding the dissolution of your marriage or divorce?
The divorce case of Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas highlights issues that cross-oceanic marital separations might bring. The “Game of Thrones” actress has, via her legal representatives, been pushing for speedier proceedings given her “work commitments” in the United Kingdom and her desire to have the couple’s children live permanently in England with her versus with their father in America. While high-profile, their situation is far from unique, given that many couples from different countries marry and later divorce. Separation between adults can be quick and straightforward, but when it comes to the custody of minor children, co-parenting arrangements need to be flexible, creative, and, above all, kind toward the children.
No matter where you live, the most important aspect of divorce and child custody is the child’s well-being. Co-parenting between different countries and time zones presents unique challenges, but effective communication, cooperation, and planning can create healthy co-parenting situations. A key component of a successful separation is maintaining open and regular communication with your co-parent. Thanks to today’s technology options, you can use video calls, messaging apps, and other apps like Skype, Zoom or Teams to stay connected. Establishing a consistent virtual visitation schedule with children will also help with scheduling and accountability. Establishing dates and times for calls gives your child something to look forward to and something consistent that you can plan around or even reschedule if necessary.
In situations where communication between parents is challenging, “parallel” parenting, a method of co-parenting in which each parent has their parenting approach when the children are with them, may be necessary. Different from co-parenting, divorced couples who parallel parent do not attend the child’s events but still use email or a co-parenting app to share information about the children’s schedules and well-being—while having minimal direct contact.
As with legal separation and custody agreements when you are in the same country, developing a co-parenting plan reduces the unknown and hopefully heads off some arguments. With separations that do not fall into the uncontested category, your best option is to seek legal advice to understand and establish a co-parenting agreement that complies with the laws of both countries. This agreement should address a broad range of issues, including custody, visitation rights, healthcare, and child support. The document can also be a guidebook outlining agreed-upon rules and expectations for the child in both households to maintain stability and consistency.
In three decades of practicing family law, I have worked with many couples who lived abroad, including the notable Elin Nordegren case against Tiger Woods. I have seen firsthand the spread of false information and the repercussions of not following protocol. That’s why it is good to regularly review co-parenting agreements and update them as needed. Be open to seeking professional guidance, such as mediation or counseling, to address any psychological challenges that may arise for you and/or your children.
Regardless of your location or time zone, effective communication, respect, and a commitment to your child’s well-being are crucial in navigating a co-parenting relationship. Though you are not being tracked by paparazzi like Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner, you should still consider your child’s perspectives and emotions and map out a positive pathway to your co-parenting arrangement.
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