Interviewer: You know it’s Mother’s Day and Memorial Day this month; hopefully, all our mother’s out there are getting to spend the day with their kids! What do you suggest to parents if they are taking their kids away for the weekend? Do they have to tell their ex-spouse all the details of their plan?
Attorney Jeanette Soltys: Unless the custody order or settlement agreement says otherwise, there is no need to provide a detailed itinerary to the other parent of what you do during your own parenting time. However, when going on an out of town trip, you do need to let the other parent know where you are staying, the dates of travel, and how the children can be reached for phone calls.
Interviewer: If the ex-spouse stirs up an issue and tries to keep you from leaving, what’s the best way to handle that kind of situation?
Attorney Jeanette Soltys: Unless there are travel restrictions placed in the custody order, a parent absolutely has the right to go on a vacation with the children. My best advice is to not engage in back and forth argument with your ex regarding the issue. Communicate your travel plans through email in advance, letting him know the dates of travel and location where you are staying. Do listen and talk through any reasonable concerns expressed by the other parent, but if he gets verbally combative with unreasonable demands, simply state that your plans are not up for discussion and walk away or hang up the phone. If he bombards you with unreasonable emails on the issue, send a brief response stating something like, “Your concerns are noted. I will not engage in further discussion on the issue” and then ignore any additional emails.
Be sure to travel with a copy of your custody order in case your ex calls the police and makes false allegations about your ability to travel with the children. Also, if your travel plans require application for a passport for the children, the cooperation of your ex spouse is necessary to obtain a passport. If your ex spouse will not sign the forms consenting to you applying for the child’s passport, then you need to consult with an attorney and consider taking legal action. If you have an ex who is difficult about travel, I recommend going ahead and getting a passport well in advance of any potential international travel to give yourself time to resolve the problem in court if necessary.Interviewer: Often parents try to ensure a call every day, but I’d like to use this trip for some US time without an interruptions. Is it okay to not have the kids call their other parents every day?
Attorney Jeanette Soltys: I personally do not like parenting plans that require a daily call with the children, as some days it is nearly impossible to comply due to vacation or an extracurricular activity. If your parenting plan states that you are to have the child call the parent on a daily basis and does not make an exception for vacation, then you could be held in contempt of court if you don’t ensure the calls are made every day. However, most parenting plans have more flexible language stating that the parent with custody needs to allow reasonable phone contact between the other parent and the child. In this circumstance, even if the children typically have daily communication with the other parent, it’s reasonable to deviate from that during vacation. I would suggest letting the other parent know that your vacation schedule may not allow for a daily phone call, but that you will make the child available for calls as your vacation schedule permits.
Interviewer: Do you have any other words of wisdom on how to handle trips with the kids and managing my ex-spouse? Are there any common things you see happen that I should know about?
Attorney Jeanette Soltys: It’s common for a parent to be concerned about who else is going on a trip and the sleeping arrangements for the children. If someone else is going on the trip, such as a new spouse, step-sibling, or even a friend of the children, be sure to keep good boundaries in place regarding the children sleeping in their own bed, everyone wearing appropriate clothing at all times, and the children not being alone in a bedroom or bathroom with an adult or even a child of the opposite sex. Travel with a new partner and also a partner’s children requires discussion ahead of time to lay ground rules to ensure privacy and appropriateness while everyone is in close quarters. Even if there is no ill intent behind behavior, it’s very easy for innocent behavior such as a female child changing clothes in front of a step-father or step-brother to be misconstrued, especially by a concerned parent who was not present and just hears about it later through the children. Be careful to never put yourself or your children in a situation that could be misinterpreted and later cause conflict with your ex.