Avoid the Child Custody & Visitation Pitfalls of Summer Travel...!
Happy Summer! These days, it’s about time, literally. Summer is a unique opportunity to make the most of your time with your children, but in my line of work, I see the problems that Co-Parents and Caring Relatives run into. There won’t always be an easy solution, but we hope this can help.
1. Schedule the vacation during your time ONLY!Follow the Order. That’s what it’s there for. “But I’ve only ever got 4 days…” or whatever. Congratulations! Please comment and explain to me how you’re not wiped and ready to get back home and to your routine after 4 straight full days of traveling, playing and constantly spending money with your children (I’m looking at you, Disney;). If you want and can handle (and can afford) more than 4 days, good for you. That said, still just schedule the trip during your time. Don’t cast a pale over the whole trip because you and the Other Side spent weeks haggling over which dates you guys had to give, take and move around so someone could have a couple more days in Gulf Shores.
2. Do not ask permission to schedule your trip, but do provide notification.It is the other side’s business where and when you are going on a summer trip (with obvious exceptions for Domestic Violence and Child Abuse situations).
I appreciate why some Co-Parents and Relatives might err the other way by saying something like “we’re talking about booking a trip to Gulf Shores from the July 5-9. Is that ok?” but this is poor precedent and symptomatic of a Co-Parenting culture of stress, control and manipulation. I advise my clients to exert agency as is their right under the terms of their Custody Schedule, all the while understanding that it is the other side’s right as well. At times, those Co-Parents seeking “permission” are setting up a strategy where that Co-Parent expects the Other Side to ask permission in such situations. That’s either poor form or setting oneself up for disappointment anyway. (But I know in my heart some of you really do love the drama - that’s okay, but you’ll need our help all the more so). Bottom line, you don’t need permission.
However, once the dates are solid. Do notify the Other Side. If you’re afraid of what the Other Side will say or do then your Custody and Visitation situation is utterly dysfunctional and you need to book a consultation immediately...for your child’s sake. If you know the Other Side might say or do something snotty but you’re ready and capable of giving it the attention it deserves, i.e., ignoring it, then you’re on the right track.
On the other hand, if you happen to have some love and respect for the relationship your child has with the Other Side, whether or not you have love and respect for the Other Side as an individual, you have the opportunity for a Total Pro Move. As Vivian Swift said, “Anticipation. In love and travel, getting there is half the fun.” Notifying the Other Side will provide an opportunity for the child and the Other Side to “anticipate” the trip together. For example, “Dad says you guys are going to Gulf Shores next month. What do you think?” and kiddo’s off to the races. The only real way to keep travel plans a secret is to not tell the kids and now you’re robbing them of the gift of anticipation.
Some practical tips to summarize: (1) book your trip without prior notification or “permission,” (2) notify the Other Side in writing, (3) go on about your business.
3. Disclose Illness and InjuryKids get hurt during the summer. Kids get sick. For any number of reasons, disclose injury and illness, preferably in writing, whatever the Other Side might say or do.
- the Other Side really does deserve to know;
- unexplained wounds have a habit of ending up on DHR’s desk;
- the Other Side is going to find out anyways and neither the Courts nor anyone else look kindly on withholding this kind of information.
“But it’s nothing, and letting the Other Side know will only stir up dischord.” Very well put but nonetheless incorrect. This is Golden Rule kinda stuff. Wouldn’t you want to know.
This is a sore spot in this business. Two parents in a loving relationship joke and laugh about kiddo’s bumps and bruises. Co-Parents are shocked at how any harm has befallen their little angel. Kids get hurt, guys. I know it. Judges know it. And you, in your heart of hearts, know it, too. It’s okay. You won’t get in trouble. If the Other Side, and it happens, pitches a fit then that’s their problem.
Here’s what’s really going on. When a child has been injured while in the Other Side’s care, and even assuming the Other Side has done everything that needed to be done and provided you with relevant, factual information, you still feel like you have to do something. Parenting stress is in this situation is a lot like grief. As the Brits say, there is little to be done but carry on. That said, we’re red-blooded Americans, we’ve got to do something. But if we’re lucky enough to have a functional Co-Parent there might be nothing practical to be done. Thus, we have to talk about it. We have to understand it. We’ve got to get angry at and frustrated with the other side. We’ve got to text them the rest of the day for updates because we assume or fear that even though the Other Side provided reasonable, informative and timely notification of the incident, the care provided and the condition of the child, the Other Side is now not going to provide any new information.
The hardest thing is to “be still and Know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. So much time, energy and love is wasted, especially in difficult situations, because things really are, as Rick Bragg put it, “all over but the Shoutin’.”
Some practical tips to summarize: (1) tend to your child’s injury or illness (2) notify the Other Side of what happened and what was done about it, (3) provide updates at reasonable intervals that you decide on (not in response to every single one of a Co-Parents stressed requests, (4) go on about your business.
ConclusionI know this stuff is hard. It’s not easy, but it is simple. Treat the other side as you’d want to be treated. Nothing less, but nothing more either. Your time with your child is yours. The Co-Parents time with the child is theirs. It’s going to be stressful and scary and you’re going to have to relinquish control and allow the Other Side the exact same kind of independent and important relationship with your child that you have. But you can do it. And, if need be, we’re glad to help.