While vacations offer a wonderful way for families to spend quality time together as well as relax and recharge, for a parent who is separated from his or her spouse or is otherwise navigating a co-parenting relationship, traveling with shared children can be understandably stressful. Indeed, not only does a separated parent have to handle the already-difficult aspects, in general, of traveling with kids, but unfortunately, it’s not unusual that he or she may also have to contend with difficulties from his or her fellow co-parent in connection with any such vacation parenting time. Thus, with summer vacation in the not-so-distant future, it’s a good time to briefly touch on five of the best practices and special considerations when co-parenting and traveling with shared children.
Number One: What Does your Court Order (If Any) Require?
As an initial matter, if you already have a court order or a written custody and parenting time agreement through the court, it is important to understand what that document says with respect to any rights or obligations for traveling with shared children. For example, is each parent only allotted a specific amount of vacation parenting time each year for out-of-town travel? Is consent of the non-traveling parent required for the other parent to travel out-of-town with the child, or is only advance notice required? Are the requirements different if the travel is local and within the child’s home state versus out-of-state? If advance notice is required, but is not provided, does that foreclose the parent’s option to travel, or does that parent’s intended travel simply lose its priority if it conflicts with already-scheduled plans of the non-traveling parent? Are there any special parameters for international travel?
These are only a few of the issues that may be addressed in a court order and/or finalized custody and parenting time agreement as it pertains to travel with a shared child. Ultimately, this is why it is important to review and be very familiar with the terms of your specific court order or written custody and parenting time agreement before planning any intended travel with shared children.
Number Two: Provide as Much Notice as Possible, Even if Not Required.
As a practical matter, when a substantial amount of advance notice is provided, it affords everyone involved a better chance to plan. This is true in any context, but it is especially true when planning travel with shared children. To be sure, in most cases when notice is provided substantially in advance, it reduces the likelihood that the non-traveling parent will already have a conflict with the intended travel or that disagreements will occur between co-parents concerning the intended travel. Alternatively, if there are disagreements or conflicts, substantial advance notice ensures that co-parents have ample time to resolve the same or otherwise involve the court, if necessary, prior to the intended travel. Of course, unless required by a court order or written custody and parenting time agreement, advance notice does not need to include every detail of the intended travel. Typically, simply giving your fellow co-parent substantial advance notice of the dates and location of the intended travel is more than sufficient to stem off any potential issues before they even arise.
Number Three: Get Everything in Writing.
While true in most aspects of co-parenting, it is especially essential in the context of vacation parenting time and travel with shared children to put and get everything in writing. While some court orders and written custody and parenting time agreements require providing advance notice of intended travel—and getting consent for intended travel—in writing, this is always best practice, regardless of what your court order or agreement provides. Likewise, to the extent that co-parents opt to verbally discuss intended travel and an agreement is reached in connection with that conversation, it is still important to document the agreement in writing. A writing does not need to be formal. Instead, it could take the form of a simple e-mail or a text message confirming the substance of the discussion as well as the details of the agreement for the shared children to travel. Ideally, this writing will be followed by a written acknowledgment from the non-traveling parent confirming the accuracy of the initial writing and the details of the agreement. Quite simply, putting and getting everything in writing as it pertains to intended travel plans with shared children not only helps to ensure that both parents are on the same page, but it also helps to avoid any subsequent confusion or disagreements as to said travel.
Number Four: Try Not to Put the Cart Before the Horse.
One situation that comes up often in the context of traveling with shared children is a co-parent making a non-refundable booking for travel before that parent ever gives advance notice to or gets consent for the travel from the non-traveling co-parent. It is completely understandable how this might happen, especially since travel deals can come up quickly and only last for a short period of time, thus requiring quick action. Unfortunately, the requirements inherent in traveling with shared children and the ability to capitalize on short-lived travel deals may not always go hand-in-hand. To be sure, it is usually best practice to provide advance notice and get consent from the non-traveling parent (if required) before travel is booked and accommodations are made for vacations with shared children.
However, in circumstances when that is simply not possible, then it is likely a good idea for the traveling parent to inquire at the time of booking as to the ability to modify the reservation as well as any available refund policies. If subsequent modification of the reservation is not possible and/or if the same is non-refundable, then it is likely the most financially responsible option to hold off on finalizing the booking until advance notice is provided to and consent is obtained (if required) from the non-traveling parent. Most importantly, it is never a good idea to inform shared children about intended travel before the same is discussed and confirmed with the non-traveling parent.
Number Five: Before Departure, Provide Your Travel Details.
Most court orders and/or custody and parenting time agreements require a parent traveling with shared children to provide the non-traveling parent with details of the travel prior to departure. Usually, those details include the method of travel (i.e. car, airplane, train, etc.) as well as specifics of the same where pertinent (i.e. airline, flight number, etc.), departure and arrival times, the specific accommodations upon arrival (i.e. hotel, AirBnB, etc.) and address, as well as a phone number at which the children can be reached while out-of-town. However, even if not required, it is often best practice to provide your fellow co-parent with this type of information prior to departure. Not only will these travel details provide some degree of peace of mind to the non-traveling parent—which, as a general matter, should only aid in making your trip as smooth as possible—but on the off-chance that something happens while the vacation is occurring, it will clearly be beneficial to have provided these details upfront.