One of the most important concerns in divorce is your custody agreement. Whether you’re the custodial parent or the non-custodial, coming to an consensus about who gets which days with the kids and what responsibilities come along with this arrangement, is paramount to both your children’s well-being and your own ability to manage your life and parent successfully. Something you should never neglect, is figuring out what each of you want concerning travel and custody agreements. How will your vacation and travel plans work after divorce?
It isn’t just things like child custody arrangements, sole custody or joint custody and parental time that need to get worked out. It’s also about the finer details that govern your time with the kids during the summer months, how parenting rights work with vacation time, how to navigate travel schedules and various travel plans, family vacations to see additional loved ones and extended family, and guidelines for the time period you’ll be away.
Also, what about out-of-state travel? International travel? Summer camps? Extracurricular activities while the kids are out of school? Birthdays? Federal holidays and culturally significant events? How will the two of you work these out together? More importantly, what will the two of you do early on while the divorce is still being finalized, to establish a consensus in writing for custody and future travel plans, special days, and individual parenting provisions?
Early is Always Better
It is best to talk it over in-depth with each other and with your family law attorneys so that nothing is left to chance when the documents are first written and signed during the divorce. You’ll want to include as much detail as possible for when vacations will take place with detailed vacation clauses. The ultimate goal is to agree on splitting the holidays and summer vacation fairly, so that each parent gets ample quality time with the kids and the children get to bond with each parent in a meaningful way.
However, this doesn’t mean equal time. As you know, the two of you will still be subject to the court’s ruling and your signed custody agreement and parenting plan.
What Travel and Holiday Arrangements Should We Include in Our Plan?
When you’re first drafting your custody arrangement, try to agree on specific details, which holidays each of you will get or what times each of you will have your child if you’re splitting some holidays in half. You can designate certain months for this as long as you can truly guarantee this time off each year.
Discuss travel between states, overseas travel, along with parent time, transportation, and your rights during a child’s summer trips, camps, extracurricular activities, or other prolonged events. You don’t want to have your son or daughter for the whole month of July, but lose them for 3 out of 4 weeks because they were hundreds of miles away at a summer camp or intensive sports or dance clinic. If it is your time with your child, you have a right to be with them and they will you. However, if the event or prolonged outing is important to your child than all three of you will need to discuss this.
Decide who will be responsible to get the children to events on certain days, who will do the drop-offs and pick-ups. Be specific in your parenting and custody plans, not leaving too much to chance. During those days and weeks when your child is away with your ex, don’t be unreasonable or use this as an opportunity to control your ex, make their life more difficult, or disrupt their travel plans. It is imperative that the two of you do your best to agree upon and document as thoroughly as possible, every travel contingency you can think of.
International Travel: Sole Custody, Primary Custody, and Shared Custody
In shared custody, rules around traveling with your minor child are pretty much equal for both parents. You will still need to communicate plans and make the appropriate arrangements. Both parents will need to sign any necessary documents, like passport paperwork. Still, each parent will need to abide by preexisting parenting agreements and schedules unless the two of you have come up with alternate plans to accommodate the travel.
With sole custody arrangements, the parent with only visitation rights must work out any travel plans with the parent who has primary/sole custody. All plans must be approved. If the custodial parent, in this case, the non-traveling parent, doesn’t agree to the travel plans and refuses to allow the other parent to travel with their child, the non-custodial parent may make a motion to the courts to gain approval. However, some states require consent by both parties before this kind of travel can take place.
Certain parents fear their ex may take the child and move far away if the young one already has a passport. This is a legitimate concern for some parents and they can petition the courts to remove the child’s passport until a later time. This decision will be at the discretion of the judge.
When Travel Interferes with Your Custody Agreement
Depending on a number of factors, one parent’s travel plans may interfere or contradict existing custody agreements and parenting plans. Each adult, according to the agreed upon custody documentation or ruling, has certain parental rights. The amount of time each parent has with the child, along with specific weekly and monthly scheduling details, like which days of the week each parent has, how weekends are handled, who gets what holidays, and during what hours, all these and more, are spelled out within the documents.
One parent’s travel plans may risk upsetting this agreement. If the traveling parent can only take their vacation during the first two weeks of August, and this falls on the other parent’s usual days, it could be a problem. If part of your travel plan crosses over a few days or a portion of your ex’s weekly time with your child, conflicts can arise and they can push back against losing time with the child.
They may refuse your travel. They may ask that you shorten your trip to get the child back in time to meet custody demands. It is important in these situations to work with your ex in a respectful, friendly, and open manner to resolve any dispute. With enough conversation and understanding, you and your ex can find a consensus. It’s important not to demand, get loud or forceful, or use threats to coerce your ex into giving you your way. Respect and transparency go a long way.
You can offer to trade time with them to make up for their time loss. Give them some extra days in the weeks to come, help with some additional rides or events, or offer them additional travel time when their vacation rolls around.
Contact During Travel
Something that often arises in these situations is the subject of contact. Of course, you want the personal relationship of each parent and your shared child to remain healthy and thriving. Some of this will come from the ability and freedom of each parent to maintain consistent contact with the child.
This should be discussed during the divorce. You can stipulate what kind of contact will be allowed during travel. How often can the parent call during the other parent’s travels? Should conversations stay under a certain amount of time so as not to interfere with the traveling parent’s plans with the child? Is contact during the trip even permitted?
Again, work this out early on and save yourselves a headache later. If you don’t, you may end up arguing about it endlessly with your ex when vacations roll around. If you’re the one on vacation, be accommodating and encourage your son or daughter to keep up contact with your ex, albeit, a normal and not excessive level of contact.
If you’re the parent still at home, make a conscious effort to operate out of compassion and generosity instead of spite or control. Don’t use this as an opportunity to frustrate your ex, disrupt their travel and holiday plans, or make life difficult for them.
This isn’t the time for paybacks or revenge. You would want the same level of respect during your vacation and your time with your child. Also, your disruptions will not only make things hard on your ex, they will damage your relationship with your child. Be reasonable. Agree with your ex on the level of contact you’ll have during their travels and what the best times for this might be.
When planning your travels, there are some other factors that may need to be considered. These include having discussions about child care during time off, and asking questions like “How homework will be handled in the event this trip takes place during school days? Do you and your spouse need to cancel or reschedule appointments for your child? Things like medical or dental appointments, tutoring, therapy, and more.
Something else that sometimes creates conflict between divorced parents is the child’s extracurricular commitments. Do your vacation plans cross over other commitments, like your child’s sports games and tournaments, or dance, gymnastics, training camps, art classes, summer camps and other activities? Many of these have costs built in that can’t be refunded. The two of you will need to discuss these matters beforehand and agree on what you’re going to do about any conflicting dates and events.
You may also need to make concessions if your travel plans take place during the initial period of adjustment following divorce. This is often a difficult time for your children. They will need a while to make sense of things, to acclimate to new schools, a new home, new friends, new environment, and new lifestyle. It may not be wise to remove them from this while they’re in the middle of adjusting to changes.
Still, judges do favor opportunities for children to get away periodically from their usual activities and patterns. This helps them loosen up and relax. It lowers stress and tensions at home or at school, and provides an opportunity for kids to connect with parents.
Divorce and travel sometimes don’t mix well because of the inherent conflict built into parental separation. But it is important to remember that parents have rights when it comes to spending quality vacation or travel time with their kids. Try your best to work maturely and calmly with your ex regarding travel or anything else that affects your usual parenting schedule and activities.
Your respective child-rearing practices and individual preferences may sometimes be in opposition. You may need additional help from outside professionals, like a mediator or a trusted lawyer. Stay in contact with an experienced family law attorney to go over all your questions, to discuss how your travel options will work with existing custodial provisions, and even to communicate about travel plans and other concerns with your ex if the two of you aren’t getting along.
There will always be ways for you and your ex to each make compromises and come to an agreement on travel and vacation in a way that works for everyone. It will never be perfect, but each of you should have ample time with your child. Always review your custodial documentation before making any plans and be sure to obtain signed consent for travel when necessary.
Torrone Law helps parents make sense of divorce and custody and find the resolution they need to move forward with confidence. Call or email us today to learn more and find out how much better life can be with a caring advocate by your side.
To learn more about custody and travel, check out our frequently asked questions below.
Can I travel with my child outside my normal parent-child time?
Yes, you can. But you must come to an agreement with your ex, and sometimes have it put in writing so you can avoid misunderstandings or additional parenting schedule disruptions. If your ex refuses to let you travel with your child, you may petition the court to make a ruling on this. This won’t guarantee things will go your way, but it will give you a greater chance of success.
Is interstate or international travel allowed for a non-custodial parent and their child?
Yes, if you only have visitation, you can still get permission to travel with your child. Your plans must not interfere with the custodial agreement. However, exceptions can be made for longer trips with proper due diligence. This will involve in-depth conversations with your ex, a detailed agreement about your travel plans, and at times, petitioning the court for an exception if you have a compelling reason for the unique travel plans.
Don’t violate your court-ordered custody agreement. If you have questions, want an exception, or believe something should be changed, discuss these concerns with your attorney.
Is it better to work out vacation or travel early on during divorce?
This is a definite yes! Work together to agree upon as many details as you can when you’re finalizing your divorce. This includes parenting schedules, vacations, holidays and travel, extra-curricular activities, and how requests for temporary changes or travel plans outside of the usual schedule should be handled when they arise.
It is possible to cover most concerns. However, you’ll never be able to predict everything. There may be a death in the family, a unique travel or learning opportunity you want your child to take advantage of, a forced change by your work in your vacation schedule, or a number of other things. You can attempt to fit these contingencies into the original agreement but it’s likely there will still be surprises that you’ll need to deal with when they happen.