Traveling has become one of the most difficult challenges facing today’s modern families, particularly those impacted by divorce. When is the last time your family got away and enjoyed quality time together? Maybe it was recently, or perhaps you’re long overdue. Whether you’re gearing up for a fun-filled beach retreat, annual camp or a quick visit to Grandma’s house, spring is planning season for summer family vacations. While it’s important for families to escape from everyday routines, it’s also important to be aware of certain requirements that apply when divorced or unmarried parents travel with children.
Kathy Root, an attorney with the family law firm Gevurtz Menashe Larson & Howe, is a nationally recognized expert on interstate and international divorce and child custody disputes — and often becomes involved in cases where a parent and child travel or relocate to another state or foreign country. With spring and summer travel right around the corner, Kathy answered questions that recently divorced parents may have about traveling with their children.
Q: I’m planning to fly my family to Disneyland once my kids get out of school for the summer. Do I need to get permission from their dad, even though we are no longer married?
A: If your summer trip infringes in any way on their dad’s legally specified time with your children, the simple and solid answer is yes — absolutely. However, even if the trip takes place only during your allocated parenting time, it is good practice to obtain a signed consent from their father including logistical details such as the dates of travel and specific locations of travel. If you and the children’s father have agreed to any “make-up parenting time,” you should also confirm that in writing. If you anticipate problems obtaining a signed consent, talk with an attorney as soon as possible. If problems occur, contact an experienced family law mediator and seek assistance from the mediator to work out a solution.
Q: I am recently divorced and would like to travel overseas this summer with my daughter. What is required to obtain a passport for my child?
A: For a child under the age of 16, it is generally required that the child’s passport application be made in person with both parents or legal guardians present, unless one parent has been granted sole legal authority to apply for the child’s passport or the second parent has provided a notarized statement of consent on the approved form. Documents supporting the child’s passport application must also be provided at the time of application. The application form should be completed but not signed until the passport agent so advises. To make it through the process without problems, a parent or other legal guardian who needs to acquire a child’s passport should start early and be well prepared — in some cases it can take a few months.
The Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) allows parents to register their U.S. citizen children under the age of 18 in the department’s Passport Lookout System. This gives all U.S. passport agencies as well as U.S. embassies and consulates abroad an alert on a child’s name if a parent or guardian registers an objection to passport issuance for his or her child. If a child’s information is registered, the registering parent should then receive advance notice of the other parent’s attempt to obtain a passport for the child. This notice may help prevent unauthorized international travel with the child.
Q: I have recently moved to Portland but my 6-year-old son lives with his mom in Tucson, AZ, during the school year. Our new parenting plan says I am to have him with me during the summers. Will he be able to fly unaccompanied from Tucson to Portland when the time comes for his summer parenting time with me?
A: It’s fairly common for children to travel by airplane to have parenting time with their long-distance parent. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, most airlines will permit children who have reached their fifth birthday to travel unaccompanied under certain circumstances. Kids ages 5 through 11 who are flying alone must usually follow special “unaccompanied minor” procedures. On some airlines, these procedures are required for unaccompanied children as old as 14, and on many airlines children age 5 through 7 will only be accepted on direct or nonstop flights, and an “unaccompanied minor” fee is often charged. Airlines generally do not permit children younger than age 5 to fly alone.
Q: I want to take my 10-year-old twins to London this summer for my family reunion, however, my ex-husband is having a difficult time granting authorization. Can anything be done from a legal standpoint to force the authorization?
A: If you want to take your child on a trip outside the U.S. and your ex-husband won’t sign a travel authorization document, you should consult an attorney, but your most likely course of action will be to petition the court to order your ex-husband to provide the needed authorization. You might also contact an experienced family law mediator to help work through the conflict. Sometimes the other parent will agree to authorize the travel if you provide all the pertinent details about the trip including the date when you and the children will return to Oregon. I also recommend offering to provide him with a reasonable amount of contact with the twins while you are in London, including phone calls and Skype, if at all possible.
Q: I am a single father of three. By law, are my middle school-aged children required to check in with their mom (with whom I share parenting time) while they are vacationing with me in Hawaii?
A: Unless your court order says otherwise, it’s not required for the travelling parent to check-in with the other parent. However, given the advancements in today’s technology, it’s highly recommended. By facilitating a brief check-in with the opposing parent, you may prevent challenges down the road, allowing for more family travel fun in the future.