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If an Ex Moves Away - Children are Affected
Editor's note: This new column, which will appear monthly, deals with matters of divorce from the standpoint of a psychologist and an attorney.

By David Volz / August, 2011

"I am becoming very concerned about a situation I never anticipated. I have been divorced for the past four years. My ex and I have a seven-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. My ex has just accepted a new position at a firm in Miami and is contemplating moving closer to his job.

"I am the primary residential parent and the children spend every Wednesday night and every other weekend with their father. The kids have a very active after-school and weekend schedule, as they both play sports, and our daughter is enjoying dance as well. As of now, my husband said he plans to commute, in order not to disrupt the children's school and after-school schedule.

"But what happens if he decides he wants to move closer to his job, which is approximately an hour away? Is there a way I can go forward to maintain the children's routine or perhaps prevent him from relocating?" - Concerned

ANSWER FROM A PSYCHOLOGIST:
"Before I get into the heart of your letter, I would like to compliment you first, by pointing out a positive aspect of your letter. Based on your question, it appears you and your ex-husband have been able to co-parent rather well by putting aside painful personal feelings from the past and acting in the best interest of your children. Being able to accomplish that is commendable, as it is not always easy to do.

"Psychologically, one of the most damaging consequences for children of divorce is witnessing ongoing parental conflict. This only creates misunderstandings, confusion, and loyalty conflicts, plus resentment, anger, feelings of sadness and loss. Additionally, when erratic and unpredictable parental relationships start to occur, they negatively impact a child's well-being and self-esteem, plus peer and other relationships.

"Of course, your worry and concern are understandable. But it would help to learn how to calm yourself down and not let such thoughts and feelings get the best of you. Remember, nothing is going to change immediately. I caution you to stay in the here and now and be present-focused, rather than imagine worst case scenarios. This is important.

"Your ex-husband has stated his plan, which is to commute. So far, he has been a reliable and consistent presence in your children's lives. And that is important to remember. It's way too soon to know whether this job is so demanding that it requires him to relocate.

"If your anxiety persists, perhaps you may want to explore with a therapist what is fueling your fears. I only wish to point out how excessive worrying hurts your emotional or mental well-being. It would be preferable to put your energies into working on yourself and figuring out ways to ease your distress, rather than put significant time, money, and energy into preventing an outcome that may never come to pass.

"Understandably, your goal is to ensure your children's stability and security. But, at the same time, be careful you don't unnecessarily cause them worry either. Most children are well aware of any changes noted in their parents' behavior or communications. If either of your children sense discomfort or apprehension on your part, chances are, whether spoken or unspoken, it will affect them, too.

"If your children withhold their thoughts or feelings, it doesn't mean they haven't noticed a difference in your demeanor. It is possible their silence may reflect a wish to protect you.

"My hope is that you will proceed slowly. It may be wise to consult with an attorney to know your rights and gather all the necessary facts and information. Or you may consider meeting with your ex-husband to discuss your concerns before any action is taken. At least this would demonstrate an effort to co-parent rather than to act unilaterally.

"Are you currently using Family Wizard (www.familywizard.com) to coordinate your co-parenting schedules? If not, this web site might alleviate some of your concerns, as it would enable each of you to keep track of the children through the calendar, message board, or journal, among all the other features offered. Best of all, it may facilitate a better working relationship between the two of you by getting the children out of the middle and making their lives more secure." -- Dr. Andrea Corn, a psychologist in Lighthouse Point ANSWER FROM AN ATTORNEY:
"Florida's relocation statute, Ch. *61.13001, states that a parent cannot relocate with the children outside of a 50-mile radius from the place where they last lived together with the other parent, without written consent or court order. So your ex-husband can move to Miami, but the children do not relocate with him.

"What this means to you is that, if he moves, you can file a supplemental petition for modification of the time-sharing schedule, since he will obviously no longer be able to exercise Wednesday overnight visitation, nor Sunday night overnight.

"Be advised that the child support calculations changed as of January 1, 2011, and opening up a modification proceeding may have the unintended consequence of lowering your child support. The fact is that you will likely end up with a greater financial burden as a result of his inability to exercise as much time-sharing during the week.

"Relocation has become a fact of life for many divorced families. But with compromise and a commitment to working together for the best interests of your children, you and your ex-husband will be able to work through these issues. It is recommended that you consult with a qualified, settlement-minded family law attorney to see if you can address these issues amicably with your ex-husband to avoid court altogether. You may also want a referral to a parenting coordinator who is a therapist specializing in working with divorced parents to help successfully co-parent." -- Nancy K. Brodzki, Esq., a specialist in family law litigation in Coral Springs.




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