Virginia Child Custody and Vacations

Posted on Apr 11, 2022 by Katie Carter

If you’re reading this article in the actual week it was published (April 11, 2022), I’m out on vacation. I’m writing this, in advance, so that, while I’m gone, interesting legal questions will continue to be answered for any Virginia women searching for the answers.

But my vacation – which will have me out of the office for the next two weeks – and a recent consultation that I had makes me think about vacation and custody and visitation. So, I thought, why not address it?

In general, a custody and visitation agreement and/or court order will address vacation time. Under a traditional arrangement, each parent will get 1-2 weeks during the summer, during which the other parent’s normal parenting time will abate, to give each an opportunity to take a vacation with the child(ren).

In general, you could also schedule a vacation for any other time during your regularly scheduled parenting time, but your freedom to do so is going to depend a lot on how much time you have and how it is shared with your coparent. If you have, for example, a 4-3-3-4 arrangement most of the time, you may find adding extra vacation time (beyond a weekend away) fairly challenging. If you have, say, week on/week off, or primary physical custody, you may find that you have a bit more freedom to take extra vacation time that is not specifically scheduled.

Of course, school schedules compound the difficulty here; something that I, too, will be experiencing soon, since my oldest is due to start kindergarten in the fall. It’s not like you can just schedule that week away to the Caribbean in February because it’s nasty here in Virginia Beach; for 5 year olds and beyond, that becomes impossible.

There are a lot of challenges when it comes to scheduling vacations. I’ve come across several in my years in practice, and I wanted to take some time to discuss the issues that can come up.

Scheduling in order to cause your coparent as much disruption – and missed parenting time – as possible.

One of the most common issues I’ve heard of has to do with scheduling vacations out of spite. Depending on what your parenting arrangement is like, it’s possible that you could schedule a vacation in such a way that it would mean that your child’s other parent doesn’t get to see the child for a month, or so that you take away what little time he or she has.

Most agreements – though not necessarily court orders, because judges can’t be as thorough as attorneys can – include a provision that says that the vacation time should be scheduled by a certain point in the year (usually, March 1 or April 1), and that one party has the first choice of dates in odd years, and another in even years. That can go a long way towards resolving some of these issues, but it’s not a perfect solution.

If, say, you have the majority of the parenting time, and you take your vacation to deprive your child’s other parent of the one weekend he has in a month, or something similar, you may be setting yourself up for conflict. Likewise, if your child’s father has the opportunity to schedule in such a way, he’s not doing your coparenting relationship any favors.

It could also be the case that you deliberately schedule it at a time that means something to your child’s father – or, of course, vice versa. If, say, his family does something every 4th of July and you try to take the child on a vacation at that time during a year when he’d otherwise have parenting time, you might have an issue. If he wants to enroll the child in a particular sport or extracurricular activity, and you schedule the vacation to interfere with a game or tournament or other important date, you may also run into problems.

How will a court look on this convenient scheduling? It’s really going to depend. If there’s spite scheduling on both sides, it’s probably unlikely to change much. If it’s only one of you, it may change things – or you may find that you wind up with more specific language governing your exchanges. The court, in general, takes a fairly dim view to shenanigans like this, and ultimately it could seriously undermine your credibility, which may harm you in this particular issue and any others that may come up in front of the judge over time.

Not wanting to allow vacations that involve particular family members.

Another common one I hear – and one that came up in one of my more recent consultations – surrounds the family that may be present on some such vacation. A woman asked me about taking her children on a trip to visit her parents, even though her child’s father wanted her to keep the kids away.

It’s not that the parents are problematic; at least, not from a custody standpoint. No one was a convicted violent felon or a child molester or something similar. Dad just didn’t like the wife’s parents.

In general, the parent is able to spend her parenting time in any way she wishes. So, if she wants to go to visit her parents during her parenting time with the children, she’s going to be able to. Two parents together can refuse to allow a grandparent to have time with the kids, but if one parent is okay with it and the other parent isn’t, the parent who has parenting time will be able to use their time to visit that person, absent some challenging facts.

Not wanting to allow international travel, or travel outside the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Parental kidnapping is, in my experience, a very real fear. It’s not usually something that actually happens, but it is often threatened. Even more often, moms worry about it, especially if the dad has family in another state or country.

Can he leave, and take the child? Probably not. Almost certainly not. And, in many cases, even if he does, we can get the child back. If this is a concern, you should definitely raise it with an attorney. It may be that you can put provisions in your separation agreement that comfort you – providing proof of two way tickets, contact information, a date on which the children will be returned, holding their passports yourself, etc. It may be that you need to refuse travel to a particular country or under specific circumstances, but you’ll want to discuss one on one with your attorney.

You’re asking great questions, and you’re right to want to know what you can and can’t do, and what he can and can’t do! Don’t let fear rule you; get factual information, and make solid decisions designed to protect your children and your precious vacation time.

You deserve it! For more information, or to talk one-on-one to a licensed Virginia custody lawyer, give us a call at 757-425-5200.