Don’t Be the Grinch Who Stole Christmas From Your Kids

It’s almost time for the last jaunt of travel for this holiday season and many parents want to travel with their children to another state or even outside the country.  However, parents who are going through, or have gone through, a child custody proceeding (whether in a divorce or paternity action) are not necessarily as free to travel with their children as are others.  Consenting to holiday travel often turns parents into competing Grinches as they vie to have the children in “their home” for the holidays, frequently to the exclusion of the other parent.  To avoid that temptation, instead of looking at the holidays from your perspective, consider it from your children’s perspective.  Then, work together to make plans which will assure smooth travel.

Restraining Orders

In California, parents involved in custody proceedings are subject to restraining orders preventing them from traveling with the children outside the state of California without written consent or a court order. Therefore, if you desire to travel with your children outside of California, it is critical that you obtain written consent from the other parent as far in advance as possible so that if such consent cannot be obtained, you will have time to obtain a court order.  Given that at this point it is approximately two weeks before Christmas day, obtaining a court order may not be realistic.  Therefore, negotiating with the other parent is essential.  Maybe the parent seeking consent to travel with the children for this holiday season can give consent for the other parent to travel during spring break.  Make the plans now.

If Traveling via Air

Every airline has its own rules and restrictions about traveling with children.  Many will ask for notarized consent or a court order allowing a parent to travel alone with a child.  Also, if the child’s last name is different from the last name of the accompanying parent(s), proof of parentage is required. Parents’ name changes must also be documented (e.g., with a marriage certificate). Therefore, it is wise to make copies of your child’s birth certificate, your new marriage certificate and your Divorce or Paternity Judgment. Better yet, obtain certified copies from the County Clerk’s Office as well as written and notarized consent from the other parent.  Place a copy of each document in your travel bag and hold it for future use if necessary.

Travel is Underway

The traveling parent should ensure that each child remains in contact with the non-traveling parent during the trip, so the child is assured that the travel is known and supported by the other parent.  The traveling parent should provide the travel itinerary, including contact information, to the other parent to facilitate this communication.

Don’t Put the Children in the Middle

Children are always torn during the holiday season.  They want to be with each parent, their grandparents and other family members.  Distance and resulting travel makes this difficult in itself, and when the emotions from divorce or other legal proceedings are involved it’s even tougher. It is thus critical that parents put aside their differences and make child-centered decisions so their children can enjoy a smooth and peaceful holiday season.  As it turns out, even The Grinch came upon a similar important realization:

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” 

– Dr. Seuss