Taking trips with the family post-divorce should continue to be a fun, memorable experience regardless if it’s a day trip or longer. Moving forward, most families benefit when the parents work out a concrete plan for how vacation time will be spent with the children. This helps to create stability and certainty in making vacation and travel plans and in the children’s lives.
Parenting time during holidays and vacations is usually addressed as part of a comprehensive parenting plan. This plan is the foundation for how the co-parenting will work. It addresses decision-making on behalf of the children as well as logistics. It can also address whether there are any limitations on travel depending on each parent’s concerns. Here are some examples of questions that arise:
- Who is permitted to travel with the child?
- Will a significant other be included?
- Which parent provides the travel gear?
- Will travel include missed school days?
- How will communication with the non-traveling parent take place?
The amount of detail can vary between agreements. Even when parents communicate well, it is a good idea to look at the school calendar and create a default schedule to ensure that expectations about spending time with the children are clear and can be met. Parents and children want to be assured of regular, meaningful contact on a weekly basis as well as during holidays and vacations.
Below are some other important points to consider and discuss when developing a parenting plan:
Default terms in the agreement:
As mentioned above, agreements often include scheduling of school breaks, holidays and a breakdown of each parent’s vacation time. There are various worksheets and programs available for creating an access schedule. Parents may find it useful to spell out any preferences or “first choice” of dates and/or time frames. Although these preferences may change over time, discussing them can be a good starting point for developing a solid co-parenting plan. Alternating the “first choice” for time with the children during the summer break is one way to share the children’s time off. Some parents prefer to maintain a set week every year or need to accommodate their respective work schedules. These issues can be addressed in the agreement.
Aside from school breaks and holidays, which generally rotate between the parents, it is useful to discuss the communication process for vacation scheduling. This includes not only how the vacation dates get chosen, it also includes how all planning and logistics related to the vacation will be coordinated and communicated by and between the parents. For example, parents may want to stipulate the time frame for notifying each other of the travel itinerary (e.g. if one parent has scheduled vacation time with the children, when does that parent need to notify the other of plans to travel out of state/country?). Additionally, parents may want to require written notification of the travel arrangements through email or text, so that the plans are memorialized.
Once a parent’s vacation is scheduled with the children, co-parenting considerations continue. A basic itinerary is usually exchanged and should include departure dates, method(s) of transportation (including flight numbers or other tracking numbers), hotels/lodging, scheduled excursions/activities and contact information (cell phones, hotel contact numbers, etc.). Most parents find it useful to discuss how and when communication will take place between the children and the non-traveling parent. For example, the parents may coordinate having the children contact the non-traveling parent upon the plane landing, arrival at the hotel, when returning from daytime excursions, etc. Having this discussion will also give the non-traveling parent the opportunity to address any safety concerns (or other concerns) about the trip.
International travel can be more complicated than domestic travel to coordinate due to time differences, technology concerns (international calling plans, availability of internet, etc.) and the general idea of the children being in a different country. In addition to providing detailed itineraries, there are other ways to reduce the stress of international travel for the non-traveling parent as outlined below:
- Passports: Many agreements specify which parent will hold the children’s passports and, if passports have not yet been obtained, which parent is responsible for securing them. Parents may also find it helpful to create a general schedule for when documents should be exchanged between the parents, i.e. if the non-holder is taking the children on an international trip, the holder should produce the passports to him/her at least two weeks (or some other agreeable time frame) before the scheduled departure.
- Safety concerns: With so many possible vacation destinations both near and far, the possibilities seem endless. Parents may want to weigh in on the possible destinations for their children, regardless of which parent will be the traveling parent. A common consideration is to look at the current political climate and United States Department alerts and warnings to determine if a vacation in a particular country would be safe. Another consideration may be the ease of access in and out of that country.
Different destinations allow for very different experiences. For example, some exotic locations offer the opportunity to come close to wild animals or to experience an adventure such as zip-lining. Depending on the children’s ages, the non-traveling parent may want to discuss what exact activities the children may be taking part in.
In some situations, especially for parents who travel for work, the traveling parent may wish for the children to meet him/her at the vacation destination. The non-traveling parent may want to discuss this type of arrangement or place certain limitations on how, where and when the children may travel alone to meet the traveling parent.
Cost of travel:
Parents may want to discuss whether the expenses of travel with the children will be addressed in their agreement.
When it comes to travel, there are many details that can be discussed well in advance in a parenting plan in order to lessen the burden and stress on each parent, regardless of who is the traveling/non-traveling parent. While a parenting agreement may not include all details, there are many items that can be included ahead of time. There is life after divorce and that includes traveling with children.