Tug of War: Summer Vacation

The Matzo has been eaten.  The Easter eggs have been found.  It’s now time to think about summer, which is often stressful for families going through a divorce or custody litigation.  It’s sad but true, for many, planning summer vacation with the children is like the game of Tug-of-War, a sport that directly pits two teams against each other in a test of strength.  However, in this familial game of Tug-of-War, the children are the center line on the rope, which each parent is struggling to get into their possession.  While the actual sport of Tug-of-War is ancient in its origin and thrilling for the participants, I can safely say that in my twenty years of practicing family law, no parent and no child enjoys the proverbial Tug-of-War over summer vacation plans.

It’s Time to Plan

Start a discussion now with the other parent regarding summer plans.  It is essential to know whether or not a dispute exists; if so, an early start offers time to seek court intervention so there is no disruption to summer plans, whether those plans include traveling, summer camp or a “stay-cation.”

Traveling Outside California

Many parents want to travel with their children outside the state or even outside the country. However, parents going through a divorce or who are already divorced are not as free to travel with their children as are others. There are many hurdles to be aware of so that a smooth travel schedule can be assured.

In California, divorcing parents 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. If obtaining such consent is not possible, you will have time to obtain a court order.

If you desire to travel outside the United States, the rules of obtaining a U.S. Passport can complicate travels further. The parent wanting to travel needs a passport. However, a passport will not be issued to a parent who owes child support payments in excess of $2,500.

Assuming the parent who desires to travel has obtained a passport, it will be necessary to obtain a passport for the children. For any child under the age of 16, one of the following must occur: (1) both parents and the child must appear at the appropriate passport office to apply for the passport; or (2) the child must appear with the traveling parent at the appropriate passport office and submit, in addition to other required documentation, a Statement of Consent from the absent parent authorizing passport issuance for the child; or, (3) the child and traveling parent must appear and document the parent’s his/her sole authority to obtain the passport. Minors ages 16-17 with their own identification can apply for a passport by themselves. However, it is recommended that at least one parent appear in person with the minor to identify him/her and to show parental awareness.

Summer Camp and Vacation

Many children, for all or part of the summer, attend summer camp.  Often there are enrollment periods, payment deadlines and scheduling necessary to accommodate desired summer travel by one or both parents, or even a “stay-cation.”  In most situations, the parents must agree to the particular summer camp, including the sharing of the cost.  The earlier the summer schedule can be confirmed, the better.  Again, if disagreements exist, scheduling a court date in advance of the summer is advised.


While there are hurdles to traveling with children, such travels do not have to be treacherous if planned well in advance.  If disagreements exist, it is best to plan in advance to get the assistance of the court.  Many people think that when the other parent disagrees with their summer plans, it is an emergency warranting immediate action by the court, but it is not.  Summer is not an emergency; it comes the same time each year and planning needs to occur well in advance.  Advance planning will make it clear whether or not there is a conflict which needs to be resolved via the ordinary course of business on the court’s calendar. This generally results in a court date within a 30-day time period.  The lazy days of summer can only occur after definitive planning has taken place.