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Child Custody and International Travel

We are living in an increasingly globalized economy and community. Multinational companies provide an opportunity for many of us to live and work around the world, even if on a temporary basis. It is also more affordable for families to go on vacations outside the country and provides an amazing opportunity for children to experience new cultures. But things can get more difficult once parents have separated and share custody of the children. This article will shed some light on what happens when a parent plans on taking the child out of the country with joint custody.

New Jersey family courts find that family vacations are an important part of any family life. It creates memories for children and their parents to share and provides interesting opportunities for the family to bond. Each parent should be allowed to enjoy ample vacation time and experiences with their children. This should include international travel, which will require a passport. Laws in the U.S. require each parents' signature on application forms or a signed consent form before obtaining children's passports. Otherwise, a parent must be able to produce a court order which confirms that the parent has sole legal custody of the child. If you want to travel outside the country with your child but the other party is being unreasonable and not providing consent to get the child's passport, your only remedy will be to approach the court and ask for help. A parent generally has the right to ask for a passport for the child if it is for legitimate travel purposes outside the United States. When the other party is being unreasonable, then the court will give power of attorney to the parent requesting so that they can sign what is required on the passport application.

Once a passport is acquired, then good co-parenting in general would imply that parents communicate with their counterpart when deciding to go on vacation with their children, whether it is in the next state over or across two oceans. All parents should get the other party’s consent, when possible. In fact, the Department of State urges parents who will be traveling with their children internationally to get a letter of consent from the other parent to avoid delays when trying to enter or leave other countries.

Traveling without the other parent’s permission can lead to dire consequences, including accusations of child abduction and court injunctions. It is important to read your court orders and find out if there are certain requirements in obtaining consent from the other parent as well. Do you need to provide notice a certain number of days in advance? Should consent be in writing? Will you need to give that party-specific information, such as an itinerary, who else will be traveling and the contact information for where you are staying? Always carefully follow orders from the court in order to avoid breaching its provisions.

If one parent is being difficult and not providing their consent to an international vacation, then you may have to seek a hearing from the court. This was the case in a recent Superior Court case, Lyle v. Lyle. The parties had divorced in 2010 and had been returning to court for various litigation at least once a year since. In 2015, the child’s mother planned on taking the child out of the country with joint custody when she decided to take her son to visit his grandparents in Holland over the summer vacation. Her plans were to travel with him for two weeks and leave him in Holland for an additional seven weeks to spend quality time with his grandparents. The father objected, so she sought intervention from the court. The father argued that he feared she was taking their only child to Holland and intended for him to stay there and never return. He also complained that this time period effectively knocked out any chance for him to travel with his son over the summer vacation period.

The court acknowledged that spending vacation time with both parents was in the child's best interest, and found that both parents, in this case, were behaving unreasonably. The mother could not in good faith take all of the opportunities for the father to vacation with his son and give that time over to her parents. In comparison, the father could not provide the court with convincing reasons for her to not take her son to Holland at all. There was no evidence that the mother was a flight risk or that she intended to leave their child in a foreign country forever. Ultimately, the court came down in the middle, ordering that the vacation to Holland should be of shorter length, and the child should travel to Holland for two weeks with his mother. She was ordered to provide a list of travel destinations, dates of travel and information regarding their flights and accommodation.

The court in Lyle pointed out that parents should always try to set aside their own differences and work together and in good faith to create a fair and reasonable vacation schedule with their kids. The judge observed that after interviewing many children over the years, they all had happy memories of certain trips taken with each parent, but they also revealed painful memories of parents sabotaging vacations or opportunities to travel with the other parent. All parents should carefully consider the impact their conduct has on their children when negotiating travel and vacation time with their co-parent.

If you have questions or concerns about taking children out of the country with joint custody, the law office of Peter Van Aulen can help. Call today for a free initial consultation at 201-845–7400.

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