School is ending. Summer is approaching. Vacation is calling. But… for parents who are separated, divorced or otherwise subject to a court order establishing custody, it may not be as simple as packing up the car and heading on out. There are a few other considerations to take into account.
First, as all co-parents know, communication is key and understanding the dynamics of the relationship between the parties is essential. For those who communicate well and generally get along, the process can be a little bit more informal. However, if there is already tension between the parties, it may be best to tread lightly or even involve an impartial third party, such as your attorney, to help reach a mutual agreement. As with most things, the more agreement you have up front, the less potential you will have for issues to occur in the future.
Second, a careful and thorough reading of the existing court order establishing custody, responsibilities and rights is critical. Often this document will have set out the parameters of how to deal with vacation and/or short-term or temporary changes in visitation schedules. These clauses are contained in the document in anticipation of these very probable circumstances. Review your Order and follow the prescribed procedure.
Your custody order may include a statement that parties may agree, without the need of a court order, to change the visitation schedule on a temporary basis or to allow for vacations with the child(ren). However, even in this situation, we still recommend the parties put their agreement in writing and sign it. This will help eliminate potential misunderstandings. In addition, in the event that something goes awry, there will be a document that the court, and the parties, can consider.
Other Custody Considerations When Making Vacation Plans
Agreeing upon these temporary custody changes and getting them in writing before you pack the car is critical. As you review custody Order and talk with the other parent or guardian, you should consider the following:
- Is there any mention of how long either party can be the primary caregiver of the child or how long either of the co-parents can keep the child away from the other? This is most important if you are considering an extended vacation. Are your vacation plans outside of these established parameters?
- Are you planning to vacation out of the state or country? Does the Order place restrictions on distance of how far you can take the child away from the other party? Does your Order address any passport issues?
- How are medical emergencies to be handled? Are there any activities, such as boating or rock climbing for example, that are prohibited? Are there people who are not permitted to be around the child who are part of the vacation plans?
Make sure to review your custody Order before your vacation to see if any of these questions have been addressed. If they are not mentioned in the Order, but you believe the other party would have a concern, it is best to bring it up beforehand and come to resolution prior to vacation.
One other thing to discuss and agree upon before you go is how much contact the child will have with the other parent – the one who is not on vacation. Is the child expected to call that parent and “report in”? Is there phone / video service where you will be vacationing? When a parent is expecting to be informed as to the whereabouts of his/her child and that information is not forthcoming, the joy and relaxation from the vacation can evaporate quickly upon return. When you set expectations up front, it makes for a better experience for all.