Fall is officially starting, and the holiday season is kicking off. Parents that are co-parenting often struggle during the holiday season if they do not have a clear and secure custody agreement and order in place. Without a custody order, disputes regarding which parent the child is spending each holiday with are common. Leaving this up to chance is a quick way to ruin your holiday when the dispute arises, and you are left with limited options.
One of the biggest obstacles parents face is vacationing while co-parenting. Many parents do not realize if they have an open case pending before the Court, they are likely restricted from leaving their county with the children without a Court order or agreement with the other parent. These are called Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders, and they are in place against parents in many active cases. There can be significant consequences to a parent that violates these orders and travels without the other parent’s approval or Court order.
A little planning and a lot of communication with your co-parent goes a long way when planning a vacation with your children. Here are some tips to secure your vacation and ensure limited issues with your co-parent:
1) Be Proactive: Don’t wait until you have already booked your trip and are packing your bags to deal with this issue. If you do not have a Court order, and your co-parent refuses to agree to your vacation, you will likely need to file a motion with the Court to address the issue and request the Court’s permission for you to travel with the child. Courts in California are backed up and it often takes several months to get before the Judge to have your matter heard. The Court may not care that you have a trip planned for next week with nonrefundable tickets and thus may not permit orders like this to be dealt with in emergency ex parte hearings.
2) Read Your Custody Orders: Before you plan any vacation, it is important for you to carefully review your current custody and visitation orders and ensure what you want to do is within the guidelines of what you are permitted to do. Many custody and visitation orders have specific parenting time schedules as well as holiday schedules to ensure both parents’ time is clearly outlined. If your orders do not specify these issues, you may benefit from getting an updated custody and visitation order.
3) Talk to Your Co-Parent: Communication with your co-parent is key for a lot of issues involving your children, but it really goes a long way to making your vacation smooth and as painless as possible. If you do not have a custody order, but have an active case with the Court, getting your co-parents permission is likely going to be required for you to be able to go on your vacation. The earlier you discuss the matter with your co-parent the better, as they are more likely to agree to your travel if it does not interfere with their plans with the child. It is recommended you discuss a potential vacation at least 30 days before the vacation. Additionally, it is important you provide your co-parent the following information when traveling with the child:
i. Departure and Arrival dates and times;
ii. Address of where you will be staying;
iii. Other people traveling with the child;
iv. Emergency contact information.
If your vacation is during your co-parent’s normally scheduled parenting time, offering your co-parent make up time for their missed time with your child is also recommended. The better you and your co-parent are at communicating and working with each other, the better off your child will be.
4) Get Your Agreement in Writing and Make it a Court Order If Possible: If you have reached an agreement with your co-parent for your travel it is important to get that agreement specified in writing signed by both parties. If you have an active case with the Court, submitting that agreement to the Court for the Court to make an official Court Order is even better. Unfortunately, sometimes parents reach agreements and then one parent backs out for one reason or another. Don’t leave this up to chance and write out your agreement and have it signed by both parents.
5) File a Motion for the Court’s Permission: If you cannot get your co-parent’s agreement, you will likely need the Court’s order permitting you to travel. To accomplish this, a motion will need to be filed for the Court’s consideration. The Court should look to what is the in the best interest of your child when making their orders. The Court often considers things like (a) Is this a vacation you always take with the child that is expected and the child looks forward to? (b) Are you going to visit family the child would not be able to see without the vacation? (c) Is your vacation interfering with the co-parents planned time with the child? (d) Can the vacation wait for another time that works better for the co-parent?
6) Don’t Tell Your Child About the Vacation Until Everything is in Order: No one wants to disappoint their child. Don’t put yourself in the position of potentially doing this by planning a vacation and telling the child without getting these issues resolved first. Some parents try to manipulate the situation by telling the child in the hopes the other parent won’t want to be the “bad guy” and will agree if the child asks them. Your child should not be used like a pawn, that kind of manipulation is not good for them and can cause significant stress and trauma. You are a better parent than that, don’t let them know or stress about these issues.
7) Contact An Attorney: Let an attorney help you deal with these issues. This will help you be sure you have done everything the Court requires of you, and you can focus on the fun part-the vacation with your child!