Distance is par for the course in living in rural Australia. Whether it is sending your children to school, groceries, that spare part for the tractor, distance is something that country people take in their stride.
Parenting is hard enough at times without having to factor in issues of distance. It can be hard on both parents and children when you are trying to co-parent from a distance. This can be made much harder if one parent decides that they want to return home to where they grew up and where their support networks of family and friends are. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement, although the Family Law Courts recognise that children have the right to a meaningful relationship with both of their parents and that both parents should, wherever possible, be part of their children’s daily routines. The result is that a parent may find themselves in a place or subject to a routine that is not optimal for them or the children.
The tyranny of distance can mean that it simply isn’t possible to put in place equal care arrangements. The Courts recognise that in some instances the logistics of travel, when factoring in school and extra-curricular activities, mean that the more ‘garden variety’ parenting arrangements will not be either appropriate or in the best interests of the children. This could mean that the primary carer of the children will have to be creative in terms of fostering a relationship between the other parent and the children. For example, sacrificing the bulk of the holidays so that they children can spend quality time with the other parent or further travel during school terms to facilitate time or be part of sporting or other activities.
Technology is an option for bridging the gap made by distance, albeit not always an option for many rural and remote areas of Australia. If you do have access to suitable technology options can include communication by Skype or FaceTime which provides a ‘real’ experience, and I’ve even heard of instances of parents that live away reading bedtime stories or doing homework via Skype. This type of communication can allow children to include a distant parent in their day-to-day lives.
There are also websites and apps that can help parents to communicate and co-parent, such as www.ourchildren.com.au and the SharedCare app. These provide everything from secure communications, to a shared calendar and photograph sharing.
While distance can be a barrier it can be overcome and proper parenting arrangements put in place that ensure the best interests of the child are met and they maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents, regardless of where they are.