Common Coparenting Issues: Travel

Posted on Mar 8, 2024 by Katie Carter

Coparenting issues: traveling with kids after breakup, separation or divorce.

At some point or another, both you and your soon-to-be ex are going to want to travel somewhere with the child.  For some families, this involves international travel; for others, it’s mostly domestic.  In any case, it probably gives you some pause to think about your child’s father traveling away with your child, especially for the first time.

We commonly address vacation time and travel arrangements in separation agreements.  In court orders, too, travel arrangements are discussed, though certainly not in the same level of detail that we can achieve in a negotiated agreement.

The detail is, after all, the main reason why a negotiated separation agreement (or custody agreement, if yours is a modification case or you and your child’s father were never married) is ideal.  Having control over each specific provision and exactly how it is worded is a benefit that really can’t be understated.

It’s actually sort of ironic, if you think about it.  The people who need specificity the most are generally the ones who are experiencing the most high conflict cases – and yet those are the people who end up with court orders that give them way less flexibility and control over the specific words used in the agreement (which, in many cases, amounts to no control at all).  This, in turn, creates uncertainty which further exacerbates the issues, making it more likely that these same families will return to court again and again, without achieving lasting resolution.

On the other hand, the couples who are more amicable are more likely to be able to negotiate an agreement, more likely to be able to influence the specific wording involved in the provisions that they utilize and, at the same time, less likely to be back for repeated modifications, whether negotiated or litigated.  All of this cooperation helps even adversarial parties feel more in control, more comfortable, and, eventually, able to establish a stronger coparenting relationship and/or blended family dynamic.

It isn’t all within your control.  But, then again, some of it is.  And, to the extent that any part of it is within your control, you should set your intention to positively influence the proceedings – rather than the other way around.

So, when it comes to travel and/or vacation, whether foreign or domestic, what provisions do you want included?

  1. Most agreements and court orders include some very basic language about providing itinerary and contact information during any planned vacation.

But what constitutes an itinerary?  What level of detail do you want from him?  And, on the other hand, what level of detail are you willing to give to him?

Do you want flight numbers?  The address for where the child will be staying?  The names of any others who will be staying with the child?  Keep in mind that anything you add will be mutual; you’ll have to live by the same conditions that you impose on him.

Is it enough for him to tell you when he’s pick up the child, that he’s going to (for example) Florida, and when he’ll return?  Or do you want more information?  It’s worth considering what, exactly, you will need to feel comfortable.

Contact information is less of an issue anymore.  We usually say contact numbers but, almost without exception, that contact would still be the same cell phone that your child’s father uses anyway.  Even in international travel these days, it’s easy to take and use your same cell phone for a relatively nominal fee through your normal phone carrier.  (Verizon, for example, just adds $10 a day for international phone usage.)  In many ways, it’s easier than ever to travel, even internationally.  If you want more information than this, consider what you would need.

  1. Set a time frame for when he will provide his planned vacation dates – and what will happen in the event that he (or you) do not provide your dates in the planned time frame.

Usually, in separation agreements, we put in a specific provision that says that the parents have to provide their dates for summer vacations by a specific time – usually, March or April 1.  In general, as a parent myself, I’d prefer to go with earlier, rather than later, dates, because summer camp registrations fill up fast and uncertainty about summertime scheduling (or scheduling at any time) is a recipe for contention.  Not every job allows as much flexibility ahead of time, though, so you may have to account for less time between date selection and travel, if that is the case, too.

Another useful provision is giving one parent the choice of dates in odd years and the other choice of dates in even years, if the dates provided by the parents happen to conflict.

But what if he DOESN’T provide those dates?  You might also put in that, in the event that these dates aren’t provided and subsequent events are arranged that would interfere with the other parent’s vacation plans (like, you signed the child up for the camp), that the other parent would either reimburse you for any amount that you’ve come out of pocket or even that preference would be given to already-scheduled activities.  I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that, if he doesn’t provide notice that he automatically forfeits any summer vacation, but it is reasonable, depending on the circumstances, to suggest that you not be harmed by his lack of attention.

  1. Discuss the passport.

In the case of international travel, how will you handle the passport?  If you need one, how can you ensure his cooperation so that you can apply or renew it?  (Both parents need to participate to complete this paperwork.)  I think it’s a good idea to confer regarding dates with a requirement that the other parent provide a set of available dates within a certain time frame – 30 days?  It’s up to you, but keep in mind that there may be processing delays with passports, too!

Once you have the passport, who will hold it?  If you’re worried about him absconding with the child (an unlikely situation, but, hey, we’re here to address and resolve your fears), maybe you want to be in possession of the passport.

Maybe, if he’s traveling internationally, he’s required to purchase round trip tickets, and provide the airline’s itinerary for any scheduled flights (as well as updates, as necessary, if flights are updated or changed along the way).

  1. FaceTime and other call options

Will you have scheduled phone or FaceTime calls during your vacation?  If you have longer periods of vacation during the summer, you may want to have specific time built in.  It’s a good idea to have calls scheduled so that it’s not too disruptive, but to make them available a few times a week if one (or both) parents requests it.

If your child’s coparent is high conflict, you might NOT want to allow phone calls – even if you might like them yourself during your child’s father’s parenting time – because it gives him too much power to disrupt your time with the child.  It’s always up to you, but it’s worth considering the way that his intervention on your time would be disruptive to you and the child.

It’s always a good idea to really spend some time with the specific provisions you’re including and ask yourself what kind of information you’ll need to feel comfortable.  Balance that need for information when your child is in the care of his other parent with your need to be separate and autonomous during your own parenting time.

Many of these points aren’t necessarily legal points.  It’s more a question of parenting and how you’ll develop a coparenting relationship that reflects your goals and values.

Some parts of a separation agreement may not seem that important because you’re planning for problems that may never arise.  Travel, though, will DEFINITELY come up!  You’ll want to spend the time on these provisions and really give it the attention that it requires.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.