Traveling With Kids After Divorce: 5 Key Considerations for Co-Parents
Taking short trips or long vacations with your family can be fun, memorable experiences. Whether it’s an hour away or on the other side of the world, getting out of your hometown and exploring someplace new is something the whole family can look forward to.
For divorced parents, simply packing up and heading out the door isn’t feasible. For one, travel with kids is rarely so easy! To protect all of that anticipation and excitement leading up to a trip, it is important that you remember to iron out all of the details as far in advance as possible.
Still, there are often guidelines and stipulations within a custody order that co-parents must follow in order to take their kids on a trip. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened up many new questions and concerns regarding travel, adding a new level of complexity when planning family vacations.
So if you’re planning on getting out of town, make sure to iron out the details regarding your custody arrangements first. Once that’s out of the way, you'll be able to focus on giving your kids a vacation they’ll never forget.
The pandemic has had a major impact on travel, particularly when flying or traveling abroad. While many adults have already received vaccinations, children have yet to become eligible to receive theirs.
Before planning a trip with your kids, consider whether your travel plans and destination will be safe enough. At this point, most activities will carry some degree of risk, yet some may be more so than others.
Information about the pandemic and related restrictions are evolving rapidly and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Be sure to keep an eye on updates from the CDC related to COVID-19 as well as updates from your local government about travel guidelines and restrictions.
Also, talk to your children's doctor to get their opinion on your travel plans. They will be able to provide educated insight into how your travel plans could impact their health.
Every situation is unique, but one good place for every divorced or separated parent to start when planning to travel with their kids is to review their parenting plan.
Review your parenting agreement for information regarding holidays and traveling with your kids. There may be details included in the agreement about when each parent is allotted time to travel or take vacations with children.
If you wish to travel with your kids during popular vacation times such as spring break, summer break, or the December holiday season, be aware of any prior arrangement you and your co-parent made on how those times are to be divided over the years. It's common for co-parents to be on a schedule that calls for them to rotate custody over those dates each year.
If your proposed trip dates include days that belong to your co-parent’s parenting time, you must discuss this with your co-parent prior to making any travel arrangements. Consider proposing a parenting time swap that accommodates your trip while also ensuring that your co-parent is able to spend their time with the children as well.
If you and your co-parent cannot agree on swapping parenting time, be flexible and try not to sweat it. It's always a disappointment when plans don't work out, but respecting each other’s scheduled parenting time, even when it means rearranging plans, is so important.
Don’t allow disagreements over a trip to turn into a full-blown conflict. It’ll only complicate your co-parenting and could even ruin the trip for you and your kids. Instead, consider rescheduling your trip on alternative dates.
In contrast, if your travel plans were for something that you feel is absolutely vital for your kids to attend like a major family event, talk to your attorney or other family law practitioners to see what your options may be moving forward. They may be able to offer guidance to you on how to handle this situation.
All in all, it cannot be stressed enough how vital it is to check in with your co-parent before making reservations, buying tickets, or telling children about vacation plans. Moreover, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to keep your co-parent fully informed of what your travel plans are well ahead of time.
Again, if you run into major disagreements about traveling with your children—especially given the pandemic—review your parenting agreement for any specifications regarding travel and consider speaking to a family law attorney if you are able.
Get Your Documentation in Order
Reaching an agreement with your co-parent on travel dates is a key first step in planning trips with your kids after divorce. Yet just as important as deciding on your travel schedule is ensuring that you have the right documentation to help your trip run as smoothly as possible.
No matter where you're traveling, thoroughly document your travel agreements and plans for your trip. This will include your travel schedule, names of those traveling with you, details on your methods of transport, information about where you'll be staying, and other key details about where your kids will be throughout your trip.
Other types of documentation you may want or need will be those related to the pandemic, like proof of vaccination or a negative viral test within the days leading up to your trip for yourself, your children, and other travel companions.
Make sure that you and your co-parent have access to review this information before, during, and after your trip. Consistently documenting your travel schedule and any correspondence with your co-parent related to these plans can help ensure that your trip is a successful one.
Domestic vs International Travel
Related to travel documentation, it's vital to ensure that you, your children, and anyone else in your travel party have the right documentation for your trip.
For flights within the United States, travelers over the age of 18 must show a valid form of identification at the airport checkpoint, while children under 18 are not required to show identification when traveling with a companion.
However, international travel will require identification by way of a passport for every traveler. According to the U.S. Department of State, all children are required to have a valid passport in order to travel overseas, regardless of their age. They also lay out the rules for how a divorced parent may submit a passport application if their child does not already have one.
It will be important to review these rules if your child needs a valid passport, as obtaining one for your child will require consent from both you and your co-parent if you share legal custody.
Consider Travel Security
Nowadays, traveling with kids is more common than ever, even for divorced families. Also common today are children with dual citizenship due to their parents' nationalities. Whether co-parents are still living in the same town or in different countries, as long as their well-being and safety are upheld by each parent, children deserve to spend time with both of their parents regardless of their individual locations.
However, situations that involve long-distance travel can quickly become complicated. The further away parents live from one another, the more involved the travel arrangements for children can be.
Beyond the costs and travel logistics of sending a child abroad, there may also be a risk factor felt by one co-parent. One particular concern that a divorced parent may have when sending their child abroad to their co-parent's home country is that the co-parent will not comply with the custody agreement during the trip, whether it is by limiting the child's contact with the other parent or—in extreme cases—not allowing the child to return to their co-parent.
Ne Exeat Bonds
As a way to help safeguard against these things from happening, a parent may ask to secure a Ne Exeat Bond prior to the trip. A Ne Exeat Bond is a form of surety bond that is used to help assure that the traveling parent will comply with the custody agreement while abroad with their child.
The bond is typically set at what the legal fees would be for the parent remaining in the United States if they were forced to take action abroad in regards to the co-parent not complying with the divorce agreement during the trip.
While this bond is something that some divorced parents may be interested in obtaining, a judge might not always require it, especially if the traveling parent has a good history of complying with the divorce agreement. Once again, your attorney will have more details regarding Ne Exeat Bonds and if it would be an appropriate option for you to look into prior to your child's trip abroad.
Plan for Fun
With all of these details that you have to work out, you may have already forgotten that you're about to set off on an adventure with your kids, one that they are probably starting to get really excited about. For many, family trips and vacations only come every once in a while–and maybe even less often for divorced or separated families.
Wherever your travels take your family, do what you can to make it extra enjoyable for your kids. Have some games and snacks packed in your bag to help quell boredom or hunger during long drives or flights. An iPod and headphones or a tablet equipped with a few movies will also help get everyone through the journey.
Once you've reached your destination, it'll help to have some kind of a schedule to keep your kids on. In particular, try to keep your kids on a bedtime or nap schedule that they are used to. It will go for meals and homework.
Finally, try and help your kids learn something new while on vacation by visiting museums, local monuments, or even showing them things important to their own family's history. If any of your plans require reservations, make sure everything is booked and settled before you even get on the plane.
All in all, traveling with kids after divorce might sometimes feel complex, but in the end, having a fun trip with your kids that they'll always remember makes it worth the trouble.
Regarding COVID-19: Information related to the pandemic is evolving rapidly. Please refer to your attorney or other legal practitioners in your area to answer your specific questions related to family law and the COVID-19 crisis.
NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.
Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.