Vacation Planning for Divorced Families

It’s your weekend for visitation and at the last minute, you decide it would be fun to head down to Washington D.C. to see that new exhibit at the Smithsonian. Can you just pick up and go, or do you first need approval from your child’s other parent?

Before getting a divorce, you loved driving up to Montreal for a quick family vacation over the summer. You still want to do this with your son, but in this day and age, what documentation is needed to cross an international border with a child, especially if his permanent address is different from your own?

You want to take your child on a Disney cruise, and even found great discount tickets, but your former spouse objects because it will disrupt your parenting time plan. What can you do to still make your travel plans work?

Taking a trip with a child almost always involves more than a little planning. But when you are a divorced parent who wants to go away on vacation, there is an added layer of conditions you may need to address, including visitation negotiations with your spouse and abiding by certain travel laws designed to protect children from kidnapping.

Before you pack, here are some common issues divorced parents traveling with their kids may encounter:

Interference from the child’s other parent: Fear, jealously, left over anger from the divorce…There can be a number of reasons why one parent may be less than supportive of another parent’s plans to go on vacation with their child. And yes, unfortunately, this can lead to disagreements and unpleasantness.

Before you make any plans, it’s a good idea to check your child custody agreement. Since travel is such a common point of contention among parents, there’s a good chance that your child custody agreement contains language that outlines the basics of parent-child travel. For example, your judgment may contain provisions for prior notification for travel dates and the obligation to provide travel itineraries.

Don’t want to have any hassles? Make sure that you comply with all of these requirements, well in advance of the deadlines set out in the agreement — and in writing, if you can.  Taking all the steps you are required to can go a long way in preventing your former spouse from attempting any last minute hold ups or threats to take you to court.

Negotiating extra parenting time: If the cruise you want to take is 10 days, rather than the 7-day vacation week outlined in your child custody plan, you may need to rely on your negotiation skills in order to come to an agreement with your former spouse. Attorney Bari Weinberger has written about how to negotiate extra time with your child on special occasions in her Huffington Post column (6 Ways Divorced Parents Can Get More Time With Their Children During the Holidays), and we have other tips for negotiating successfully with a former spouse (see our recent blog: 3 Tips for Successful Negotiation). Depending on the state of your relationship with your former spouse, this may be an easy or tricky matter to resolve. However, it’s also a lesson in why it’s easier to have an amiable relationship with your child’s other parent when situations like this pop up.

Travel to foreign countries: According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, if a child is accompanied by only one parent, that parent should have a note from the child’s other parent approving of the trip. For example, “I acknowledge that my wife/ husband is traveling out of the country with my son/ daughter. He/She/ has my permission to do so.” If a single parent has sole custody, a copy of the court custody document can replace a letter from the other parent. Just in case, you may want to carry a copy of your custody agreement and/or have the note from the child’s other parent notarized.

Children also need to comply with passport requirements when crossing international borders. If you are driving from New Jersey to Canada for the weekend, there is no passport required for a child under 16 years old traveling with a parent, but the parent will need to produce an original or copy of the child’s birth certificate or naturalization certificate.

Bon voyage!