Co-parenting requires good communication and preparation, particularly if the parents don’t live together. Custody agreements between two parents spell out important information regarding the time that each parent is entitled to have with the child. However, many parents forget to consult this agreement—or the other parent—when making vacation plans. Below we discuss how to include your child in your vacation plans without violating your custody agreement.
The Importance of Abiding by the Terms of Your Custody Agreement
According to Arizona law, if you violate any of the terms of your custody order, including conditions regarding parenting time or visitation, the court may legally do the following:
- Find you in contempt of court
- Order visitation or parenting time for the other parent to make up for the time missed due to your violation
- Order you to complete parenting education courses at your own expense
- Order family counseling at your own expense
- Order civil penalties of up to $100 for each violation
- Order both parents to attend mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution at your expense
- Make any other order that’s in accordance with the best interest of the child legal standard
- Hold a hearing to review the noncompliance with the visitation or parenting time order
- Require the violating parent to cover any court fees incurred by the non-violating parent associated with the review of noncompliance order
Does the Vacation Fall Within Your Scheduled Parenting Time?
Vacation time is an important component of your custody agreement, and courts generally favor agreements that provide children with the opportunity to spend quality time with each parent away from the day-to-day routines of work and school. Because of this, your custody agreement likely has provisions within it as to how much vacation time you’re entitled to have with your child during the summer. Your agreement may clearly state the exact dates as to when each party may take vacation time, or it may require you to coordinate and schedule that time with the other parent well in advance of any vacation.
Although courts often hold the view that vacation time takes precedence over regular parenting time, whenever possible, you should try to plan your vacation within your scheduled parenting time. In general, unless your agreement includes a specific time period for notice, you should let the other parent know thirty days in advance of the dates of your planned vacation. If your vacation plans infringe on the other parent’s parenting time, always be sure to discuss options for making up the regularly scheduled parenting time that the other parent will miss out on due to your vacation.
Traveling out of State? Inform the Other Parent First
Many custody agreements spell out whether one parent must notify the other parent of out-of-state travel plans. However, even if your agreement doesn’t specifically discuss out-of-state travel notice, it is a good idea to discuss any planned out-of-state travel with your child’s other parent well in advance of any planned vacation. During this discussion, you should agree to some specific terms of the out-of-state vacation; it’s generally a good idea to get such agreements in writing, with each parent having a copy of what he or she is agreeing to when it comes to traveling out of state for vacations.
When planning a vacation with your child, keep in mind the following tips:
- Don’t plan an out-of-state vacation that will result in your child missing an important day for the co-parent, such as the co-parent’s or another close family member’s birthday.
- While planning the vacation, you should set aside times for your child to contact the other parent while out of town, as this helps your child and the other parent feel connected to one another, even while you’re away on an out-of-state vacation.
Always Share the Details of Your Vacation With the Other Parent
As discussed above, court-ordered parenting plans often include a requirement that one parent notifies the other parent of any travel plans. However, even if your agreement doesn’t include this provision, it’s a good idea to provide notice anyway. While no divorced parent wants to be micromanaged by his or her former spouse, one very important reason why your co-parent should be informed of where you’re going and how to reach you is in case an emergency occurs at home, and the other parent needs to contact you or your child; he or she must have the ability to reach you. Likewise, if you or your child has an emergency that requires you to contact the other parent, he or she should at least have an idea beforehand as to where you are. This is especially important when you and the other parent share legal responsibility for the child and for decision-making regarding your child’s medical care.
The following information is helpful for the other parent, and will be helpful for you as well when the other parent takes a vacation with the child:
- Where are you going and what activities will you be doing?
- When will you return?
- How are you getting there? If you’re planning to fly or take a train, provide information about the airline or train carrier, the flight or train number, and the travel schedule.
- Where are you staying? Include an address or a phone number.
- Who are you traveling with? Include a contact number for another adult who will know where you are and be in contact with you.
Should You Modify Your Custody Agreement?
Custody agreements should reflect the best interests of your child at the time of issuance. However, as time passes, you and the other parent may find that the agreement should change to reflect your child’s growth in both maturity and development. Vacation time is often one aspect of an agreement that you may want to modify as your child becomes older. While it may not be advisable for you to take an infant out of town for two weeks, taking a 15-year-old out of state to enjoy a summer vacation with you is a different matter.
If you feel a need to modify your custody order, an experienced family law attorney can guide you through that process. Make sure you consult with one before taking any actions that could jeopardize your custody rights.