For many families, the holidays mean vacations to warmer climates or trips to visit out-of-state family and friends. If you have gone through divorce and share child custody with their other parent, it is important that you notify the other parent and honor your custody agreement regarding travel, or you could find yourself dealing with a legal headache.
This is what you need to know if you are a coparent and want to take your child out of town. With a bit of preparation and legal guidance, you can avoid the stress of a custody problem caused by a winter vacation.
Check Your Custody Agreement
Before booking those airline tickets, planning that cruise, or just taking an out-of-state road trip to visit relatives, you need to check the terms of your custody agreement or parenting plan.
During divorce, it is common for parents to outline the guidelines for summer breaks, school vacations, and holidays. Many parents also include rules that require one parent to get permission from the other to travel with the child out of state. If you do not honor your parenting plan, you could be inviting conflict and costly and time-consuming custody battles.
Keep Communication Open
Parental rights are protected in this country. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions for a child’s care, health, and well-being. Therefore, a parent with legal custody does have the right to have some input about a child’s travel plans, even if they do not have primary physical custody.
Imagine finding out your ex-spouse booked a week-long vacation for your child in another state without checking with you first. How would you feel? Beyond the legal rights and responsibilities that come with shared custody, being open and transparent about your vacation plans can go a long way to keep your coparenting relationship peaceful and productive.
It may take some time and practice to find the communication method that works best for you both. If talking in person or speaking on the phone is challenging, consider checking-in via text or email.
There are also several different coparenting apps to make the process smoother. These apps offer messaging; shared calendars; photo storage; and even the ability to upload, store, and share important documents such as medical records and receipts.
Share Your Itinerary
Along those same lines, while you are being total upfront about your intention to take your travel with your child, it is important to provide your coparent with a detailed itinerary for your trip.
Tell the other parent when you are leaving, when you plan to arrive, and where you are staying. If you are flying, provide the flight information and other details. It is not always easy for a parent knowing their child is miles away, but knowing where they are and when they are coming back can help ease an anxious mind.
Be Willing to Compromise
If you are planning a post-divorce trip with your child, you may soon realize how difficult it is to pick a time that does not interfere with your coparent’s parenting time or your child’s social or sports calendar. If you are traveling with family or friends, you have to work around their schedule as well.
It is inevitable that a vacation will interfere with the parenting schedule in some way or another. For that reason, it is helpful to be flexible and willing to compromise with your parenting plan.
If your trip requires a coparent to give up a few days of parenting time, discuss when they can make it up in the future. If your ex-spouse wants to take your child away but it runs into your scheduled parenting time, refrain from saying no just to prove a point.
Instead, step back and consider the bigger picture. What is best for the child? Their best interests should guide each and every parenting decision, including family travel plans.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Travel Plans
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some parents are finding their ex-spouse is much more hesitant to let their child travel than in the past, and with good reason. Although incredible strides have been made in vaccinating the public and reducing cases of the novel Coronavirus, the pandemic is not yet over.
Regardless of how you feel about precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, it is essential that you adhere to any public health orders in place regarding interstate or international travel, mask mandates, and quarantine requirements. Violating these restrictions can get you into trouble with your ex-spouse.
Conversely, if you believe the coparent is putting your child at risk by traveling with them at this time, you should contact your lawyer for help.
Can My Ex-Spouse Keep Me from Taking My Child on Vacation?
Despite all this talk of flexibility, communication, and compromise, the reality is many divorced couples find it nearly impossible to get along, even after the divorce is final and they have moved on with life.
What Can I Do if My Ex-Spouse Says No to My Vacation Plans?
What happens if you make plans well in advance, give your former spouse all the details for the trip, offer to make up any missed custody time, and they still say no?
If your child custody agreement does not allow you to take your child out of the state for without the other parent’s permission, it is important that you honor those terms, as frustrating as it may be.
Once your child custody agreement is reached, both parties are expected to honor it. If either parent does not abide by the terms of your agreement, the other can file a contempt petition against the offending party.
What Happens if a Parent Violates a Custody Order?
If you take your child on vacation against your ex-spouse’s wishes and it is a clear violation of the custody agreement, you can be found in contempt. Repercussions for contempt include financial penalties, a custody order modification, and even possible jail time.
Our recommendation is always to follow your custody order. It is an essential tool for coparenting and works only if both parents are compliant. If it states you must get permission from your ex-spouse or the court to travel out of state with your child, you cannot leave until you file a written request and get approval to do so.
If you are nervous about asking your ex-spouse to change up the parenting schedule so you can take your child on a vacation, remember the sooner you do it the better. Your ex-spouse may be more receptive to the idea if they have some time to think it over. Springing a last-minute getaway on them may not go over so well.
Approach the conversation with an open mind and have all the details available: dates, times, accommodations, flights, and other information. If you are aggressive and seem prepared for a fight, your coparent may feel defensive and less willing to consent to the trip. If you do meet resistance, contact your child custody lawyer for guidance on your next step.
Somerville Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients with Complex Custody Matters
If your ex-spouse is challenging your travel plans with your child, contact the Somerville child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. for guidance. We will review your custody agreement to clarify your rights and responsibilities and explain your legal options when an ex-spouse will not compromise. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.