OLG LEGAL COMMENTARY:
Jeffrey W. Smith, Attorney
While summertime is typically that jovial part of the year when families get together to travel on trips near and far, sometimes for weeks at a time, that is not necessarily the case for the millions of families with children that have gone through the divorce process.
Unfortunately, this time of year — similar to when the December holidays roll around — tends to bring angst, anger, and hostility between the divorced spouses, mostly because one or both parties wish to take their child(ren) on vacation with them for extended periods of time … and the other party is hesitant, anxious and/or not willing to allow that to occur.
As an attorney with The Orlando Law Group, I see this quite often. When divorcing, parents will hopefully come to an agreement on a “parenting plan,” [otherwise the fate of the time that parent will have with their child(ren) will lie in the hands of a judge] that will include what time and dates each parent is scheduled to spend with the children and over which holidays, summer and spring break. At that time, agreements get put in place. For example, “Both parents will get 15 consecutive days with the child(ren) in the summer,” and “each party has to notify the other by May 1st of each year as to what those dates are and will be,” or “In the odd years Mother’s dates will take preference and in the even years Father’s dates will be given preference.”
These detailed agreements are put in place so that there are no surprises for either divorced spouse and to help the families plan and prepare in advance so as to have more enjoyable, quality time together. And, for the most part, they are guidelines that are put in place by both parties amicably.
Even with a Divorce Agreement, Problems Can Arise
However, very often, even though there is a divorce agreement in place, come each May, November, December and March the arguments still tend to arise. “What do you mean the kids are going with you for two weeks straight? I cannot be without my child for two weeks in a row? Three weeks? A whole month? What do you mean I don’t get to see them for however many days we agreed on?”
When the reality hits that, yes, summertime is here and, yes, the other parent is, indeed, taking your child — their child — away on vacation, many people tend to panic. They suddenly do not recall their divorce agreement. They suddenly do not care to recall their divorce agreement.
And so the unhappy parent will then try to prevent the other parent from exercising the agreed-to time sharing agreement.
I have had clients beg for me to go in front of a judge to plead their case because “it would devastate their child if they were apart from one another for two whole weeks.”
I have had clients tell me that the other parent is not good for their child(ren), and therefore should not be allowed to have them for vacation time.
I have had clients tell me that the child(ren) does not want to go with the other parent, so therefore they shouldn’t have to.
Here is the thing, — these divorce agreements are in place for a reason. They are there to ensure that both parties — the divorced husband and the divorced wife — get a fair amount of time with their child(ren), as agreed upon by both parties. This is necessary to ensure that the children maintain a meaningful, quality relationship with both parents.
Unless there is a material, substantial and unanticipated change in circumstances [or, on the very rare occasion, an “emergency,” defined as the imminent physical harm to the child, or the parent is threatening, or is attempting to remove the child from the jurisdiction of the court, e.g. State of Florida] to go back in front of a judge, then you must follow the divorce agreement that you entered into, agreed upon, and signed.
This is why, when going through divorce and creating a parenting plan, the plan should be as detailed as possible. Make it so it protects both parents, to where each parent, when the child(ren) is away, gets to know where they are going, where they are staying, how long they will be gone, when they will be coming home, who they will be with, what numbers they can be reached at, etc.
But please remember, parents, it goes both ways. One parent cannot and should not expect the other parent to provide that information, and yet not themselves have to do the same.
And Remember This, Too: You are Not Alone.
I speak from experience. As a divorced parent, I was one who did not want my daughter gone for such an extended period of time. I heard the cries from my daughter of not wanting to go, of not wanting to leave me, and it hurt.
So when that holiday, summer, or spring break rolls around, think twice. Do not make it worse on your children by adding unnecessary stress and discontent to a situation that was not only agreed to by you, but also is a time for the child to enjoy and grow that relationship with the other parent, it’s their vacation too.
In the rare event that you feel there may be a material, substantial and unanticipated change in circumstances that would warrant a modification of your parenting plan, or, if you honestly believe your child may be in imminent physical harm, or the other parent may be fleeing the State of Florida with the children, by all means, contact an attorney.
But it is your job and, in fact, your obligation to put your children first and above any disagreements you may have with your ex-spouse.
I know, easier said than done. But for the sake of your children it, nonetheless, must be done.
** Attorney Jeffrey W. Smith’s areas of practice with The Orlando Law Group include veteran law, family law, estate planning, general civil/business litigation, and social security disability. To contact Smith, or for more information about The Orlando Law Group, please visit TheOrlandoLawGroup.com or phone 407-512-4394. **