Splitsville: If You Want The Kids, Come And Get ‘Em

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

With all the challenges that face blended families, sometimes it’s the smaller details that end up becoming a problem. When parents go through the courts, they normally set up a visitation schedule and settle educational choices. The cause of the majority of co-parenting arguments, the money, is put through a calculator and signed off on by the judge. The large-scale issues hopefully all get addressed. But that leaves some of the smaller incidentals, like the driving, up for serious debate.

Driving across town might not seem like anything to argue about, but for some parents, it adds up to a big mess. There’s the ever-rising cost of gas, the inconvenience of leaving one’s home and the chunk of time it takes to travel, time that neither parent wants to give up. Also, if there’s any tension over other issues, it often plays out in commonplace negotiations, like who has to do the driving?

Most parents try to meet half-way, either literally or figuratively. They find a meeting place that’s centrally located between their two houses and make all exchanges there. Or they each drive one leg of the trip, dropping their kids off at their ex’s house at the start or end of the visit. This type of arrangement makes sense, especially if you have joint custody and live close to each other.

However, change the distance or the custody dynamic and things get a little more tricky. For instance, if your ex moves over an hour away, are you still going to be willing to make that drive? Many would say that if it’s the ex’s choice to move than they are making the commitment to drive further to see their child. But your ex is a person too, who might need to move for work reasons so that they can continue to pay child support. If they’re trying to do what’s best for your family as a whole, should you help find a solution to the new arrangement? That’s a personal choice that every parent has to decide.

In general, I would assume that custodial parents are less likely to do the driving, which might be extremely frustrating for parents who already get less time with their children. The idea for many sole guardians is that the other parent is requesting visitation time, they should be the one to come get their child and drop them off. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, but for a struggling single parent trying to pay support, gas money might be an issue. Or if they only get three hours with their child, driving a half hour each way could take out a third of time every visit. It’s all a matter of perspective.

The most difficult situations occur when parents live many hours away. In those circumstances, the non-custodial parent who sees the child infrequently is almost always expected to make the trip and pay for transportation.

I can’t give a solution to every transportation issue out there, because every family needs to find a compromise that works for them. I think it’s important to note that even minor issues can become huge when they’re ignored or allowed to get out of control. After all, if there’s a commute problem, that means that there are two loving parents who simply want to spend time with their kids. At the end of the day, that makes you and your children part of a fortunate group. The most important bit of advice to dealing with the details? Don’t forget the big picture.