In today’s modern world, one parent may live in a different state than the other parent. When this happens, I help my clients draft a long distance parenting plan so that each parent may have appropriate time sharing.
But, who pays for the plane tickets?
Usually, one parent will have the children during the school year and the other parent will have the children during the summer, the winter break, and other holidays. This usually requires putting the children on a plane to go visit the other parent in a different state. A recent First District Court of Appeals case dealt with this issue. In McWilson v. McWilson, the former wife was ordered to pay 97% of the travel expenses. The appellate court found this to be error and stated the following:
Visitation travel expenses should be allocated in the same guidelines ratio as governs allocation of the other child care expenses, unless the trial court makes findings explaining why a different allocation is needed to achieve an equitable result.
The appellate court ordered the trial court to divide the travel expenses according to the ratios in child support guidelines or make findings that support a different allocation.
How is it calculated?
I've typically seen courts divide the travel expenses two different ways. The most traditional way is to order that the travel expenses be paid on a pro rata basis. So, for example let's say a Father makes $75,000 a year and a Mother makes $25,000 a year. The court would add those incomes together for a combined total income of $100,000. ($75,000 + $25,000 = $100,000). The Father makes 75% of the combined total income. The Mother makes 25% of the combined total income. Therefore, the Father will pay 75% of the travel expenses and the Mother will pay 25% of the travel expenses.
Another, less common way, is for the court to reduce the parent's monthly child support obligation in order to compensate for the travel expenses. I do not recommend this way, because airplane prices fluctuate drastically.
Another issue to consider is how are the travel expenses defined? Will the travel expenses be flights for the children only? Or will they include flights for an adult escort to accompany the children? Will they include hotels or rental cars? All of these issues should be discussed in detail with your family law attorney in order to make sure you are getting a thorough parenting plan.
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