In general, when one parent has sole custody, they typically have the right to make decisions regarding their child’s travel, including taking them out of the country for vacations (unless there are restrictions specified by the court).
When there is a joint custody arrangement or the non-custodial parent has visitation rights, however, the situation becomes more nuanced.
What does your custody agreement say about the issue?
In cases of joint custody or visitation rights, it is advisable to review your custody agreement or court orders very carefully. Some agreements include specific provisions addressing international travel (particularly if there are relatives overseas), requiring the consent of both parents or imposing conditions and restrictions on taking the child out of the country. These provisions are designed to ensure the child’s best interests are protected and that both parents have an opportunity to provide input on international travel plans.
Do you have your co-parent’s co-operation?
Even if you have a provision for international travel in your parenting plan, the State Department follows its own rules. Unless you already have a passport for your child, you will need to get your co-parent’s consent for the application for any minor under 16 years of age. Even if your co-parent is generally amenable to the idea of an international vacation, you still need to keep in mind their rights to parenting time. Working with your co-parent to negotiate “make-up” time with your child or virtual visitation while they’re overseas may be important.
Should you seek the court’s approval?
If the custody agreement or court order does not address international travel, if there are disputes regarding the child’s safety or well-being during the vacation or if your co-parent has raised the specter of a parental abduction, it may be necessary to obtain permission from the court before taking the child out of the country.
Keeping your child’s other parent informed and seeking their consent whenever possible can help to maintain a positive co-parenting relationship and avoid unnecessary conflicts over international travel for vacations. If your co-parent is adamantly opposed to a trip, you may need to seek legal assistance.