Fighting for dads' vacations with their kids

Divorce should not deprive either parent of the privilege of taking a child on a wonderful vacation. But unless an ironclad custody agreement between the parties spells out the vacation rights and responsibilities of both former spouses, a parent could find the special time planned with his or her child over before it begins.

Such was nearly the case in two recent emergency family court petitions that I handled for fathers who just wanted to take their children on vacation. Lacking a formal custody agreement spelling out their vacation rights, however, these dads were at the mercy of mothers who objected to the plans.

I am pleased to report that we prevailed in both cases, scoring happy vacation victories for both fathers and their children. This includes one courtroom win that came the very day before the dad and his child were to go to Disneyworld.

With summer vacation season nearly upon us, this is a good reminder of the importance of a formal custody agreement, even between parents who reach verbal agreements at the outset of a divorce or separation. Because should things change - and in my experience, they often do - the only recourse is seeking emergency court relief.

A victory for vacations

The first father had primary custody of his child. He had scheduled an educational trip to take place during the school year. Responsibly, he let his child's mother know the details more than a month in advance.

Yet with everything set to go, the mother refused at the last minute and attempted to block the trip, leading to an unexpected courtroom detour. In preparation for the hearing, we rounded up witnesses who were prepared to testify to the father's advance planning as well as the educational benefits of the vacation. In short, the trip was in the child's best interest, even though it was occurring during the school year.

We entered court ready to argue the facts of the case in support of special relief to permit the trip. At the last minute, knowing her reasons for blocking the trip wouldn't stand up, the mother agreed to the vacation and we formalized the approval with a court order.

These kinds of disputes occur more often than one might think. When this father returns from vacation, I'll recommend a custody agreement that includes a strong clause spelling out his vacation rights.

Mom's down on Disney?

Even parents who seem to have worked things out on their own can find themselves suddenly facing problems, as happened with a father who wanted to take his child to Disneyworld.

The parents were never married and lacked a custody agreement, but the father thought he had a verbal understanding that he could take the couple's child to Disneyworld, along with the rest of his family.

Not only did the child's mother suddenly refuse to give permission for the trip, she pulled the child out of school and had a relative stay at the house to turn the father away. She also filed a petition in custody court for special relief to block the Disney trip.

The clock on that Disney dream vacation was ticking. I consulted with the father the afternoon before the family was to leave, and before the close of business we were off to court. We were able to get a court order permitting my client to pick the child up that evening so the trip could start as planned the next morning.

In addition to a saved vacation, an important lesson was learned: Verbal custody-sharing agreements are worth exactly as much as the paper they aren't printed on. In other words, they are unenforceable and utterly meaningless.

Only a well-structured custody agreement drawn up and negotiated by an experienced attorney - that includes a strong vacation clause - can protect your next planned trip with your son or daughter.

Don't jeopardize your time with your child

It is sad but true: Divorces leave bitter feelings. Child custody becomes the final tool to settle old scores between former spouses or partners . Unfortunately, there is no more potent weapon in these battles than ruining a parent's long-planned vacation with a child.

Recently, I was able to assist two good dads. They had wonderful trips planned, but their children's mothers tried to stop them. We had to go to court in both instances to overcome the mothers' groundless objections.

It always pays to have an attorney negotiate and establish your rights to certain amounts of annual vacation periods and holiday time with your children. Don't leave something this important to chance.

Don't let the kind of last-minute vacation stress experienced by these two dads happen to you.

With a professionally negotiated custody agreement containing ironclad vacation rights, the only thing you'll have to worry about on your next vacation is making it to the airport on time.

Bon voyage!

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