By Jennifer M. Paine
Imagine this: You have your suitcases packed and your kids waiting in your care. At long last, it’s time for a vacation. It’s been a long winter and a bad year with your divorce, and it’s finally time to relax. That is, until you get a call from your ex, or worse, her attorney or the police. They claim you cannot go anywhere with those kids. What are you to do?
If you are like most guys, this scenario is a legitimate fear. For many, it’s a reality. Like it or not, when you are divorced, your divorce decree governs not only when you see your kids, but also where you go and whether you can travel at all when they are with you.
This does not mean that each of you has an absolute veto over the other’s travel plans. If that were the case, ex-spouses would use it out of spite with no recourse from the court.
It does mean, however, that if you do not take certain necessary steps now, you could very well find yourself unable to travel when and where you want- even during your own parenting time. Here are some minimal but important steps.
Court Order: The best way to preserve your travel plans is to put them directly into your order. Be specific with dates, locations, whether third parties can attend (friends, family, significant others and so forth), when and how you can each contact the kids (text, phone, Skype), emergency contacts, hotel locations and which plans “trump” if you each select the same days for vacations.
Negotiated Plans: If you do not have travel plans specified in your order, do not despair. Instead, negotiate them, and put them in writing with reasonable time before your trip. If your court permits, make those plans an amendment to your order, and file them with the court so that they are enforceable just like your original order.
Passports: Do not wait until the last minute if you need passports. If you do so, you may find yourself negotiating with your ex for permission or filing an emergency motion with your court if she refuses. The federal Two Parent Consent Law regulates passport applications for minors.
Minors age sixteen and older may sign their own application, or their parents or individuals in loco parentis (such as guardians) may apply for them. To apply for a passport for a minor under age sixteen, both parents must consent in writing or the applying parent must provide documentation showing his or her sole authority to obtain the passport.
Bonds: If you are afraid that your ex will flee, or your ex accuses you of being likely to do so, then consider a bond. A bond is, essentially, money the travelling parent puts forward and into escrow to cover the other parent’s costs in the event that person has to retrieve the kids, hire a lawyer to return them or track them down.
If fleeing is a serious concern, however, reconsider the prospect of traveling, as it is costly and difficult to retrieve a child once the child reaches certain countries – and, in some, impossible.
State Laws Despite these options, be aware of your state’s laws. Some states specifically preclude parents from traveling to certain countries without the other’s consent, put distance limits on travel or require unique procedures for checking in or checking out with your ex, the court or both.
Whatever you do, do not ignore these steps while you plan for your trip. If you do, you might very well find that your dream of relaxing in the sun with your kids disappears into the icy cold stare of your ex refusing to let you go.
Jennifer M. Paine is a Michigan Divorce Lawyer with Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Ms. Paine received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.