Back to school is here and even though the pandemic is still with us, many parents are thinking about traveling during the Thanksgiving and Winter Break periods. When the parents of children are not together, travel brings on some additional considerations. What should a parent consider when making plans to go out of state, or out of the country?
First, is there an agreement which has conditions about travel with children? This may be in a Court Order, Property or Marital Settlement Agreement in a divorce, or a Custody and Parenting Agreement. Most often, travel is addressed in these documents. Now is the time to look and become refamiliarized with the obligations. Is there a requirement to notify the other parent a certain number of days prior to the travel? Are there any restrictions where a parent can take the child?
Many parents believe that there is a law that restricts travel with a child outside of the State of New Jersey at all without the other parent’s permission. This is not correct. A parent, absent a court order stating otherwise, can take a child out of the State. What a custodial parent cannot do, is move with the child outside of New Jersey to live without either permission of the other parent, or a court order. Vacations, day trips, and shopping excursions to the mall across the state line is acceptable.
The current pandemic environment causes some additional considerations when making plans to travel with a child. First, communication is key. The last thing a parent wants is to have made travel plans and the other parent is running into court to prevent the child from going. This leads to anger and disappointment on all parties, particularly the child.
Discuss the location you want to go to with the other parent. Many popular destinations are in areas that are experiencing high levels of COVID infections. If the location is a high-risk area (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of these destinations), let the other parent know what protocols you plan to take while there. Maybe the parent is renting an Airbnb and there will not be many trips to crowded areas. Are vaccinations or negative COVID tests required to travel to the destination? How are you planning to get there? Is it likely that a three-year-old will be able to keep a mask on for a five-hour train ride? Is there a more practical, but not faster way to travel to minimize risk? Is there a destination that might be less risky?
Courts are being faced with many applications by parents who disagree about the travel plans of the other. The time to think about travel is now because the court system is extremely backlogged due to the pandemic and judicial vacancies. Waiting until a few weeks before the proposed vacation may not result in an application being considered by the court.
Parents often want to know in advance the likelihood of a judge granting a request to either allow or prevent a vacation during the pandemic. Each case is different and stands on its own facts. However, when there is a disagreement between parents, the court will look to the CDC and its guidelines when fashioning a remedy.