As Spring Break approaches and planning for summer vacations start to take shape (which may take you out of the country), make sure you have permission to do so if you’re divorced with children.
Okay. That long-awaited vacation with the children is finally here. You and the kids have been talking for months about the trip to Cancun (or Europe or the Far East). You get to the Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, Michigan (or GRR or DTW if your travels take you there) and the excitement is more than you can stand. You pull up to US Customs and an officer asks if you are the parent of this 17-year-old next to you. You say, “Why, of course I am,” and mention that even though you are divorced, you have legal custody (along with the child’s other parent, your ex-husband or ex-wife). “Prove it,” says the Customs Officer. “What do you mean, prove it?” The Customs Officer, who has been dealing with this all week, abruptly tells you that you may not leave the country with your minor child, even though you have legal custody of the child(ren) unless you can prove that you have legal custody of the child and in some cases a signed notarized statement from the other parent (you know, the one that you are on great terms with) allowing you to take the child out of the country.
This scenario plays out time and time again, particularly during spring break, summer break, and Christmas and Thanksgiving school vacation times. It is happening more frequently since the events of September 11. What is the US Customs’ authority to preclude you from leaving the country with your own child? Are you going to tell them that they must let you leave even if you don’t have the papers that they require?
The best remedy for this problem is to know about it (now you do) and to plan ahead, way ahead. First of all, contact your divorce attorney or the court in the county which you were divorced and obtain a true copy or a certified copy of the Judgment of Divorce in your case. Further, even if you were granted joint legal custody of your child(ren) you should contact your children’s other parent and obtain a signed and notarized letter or statement that they have no objection to you taking the child(ren) out of the country to wherever it is that they are going for the period that they are going there. If making this request is very uncomfortable for you or if they unreasonably refuse to sign the letter or statement, you should try to obtain a letter from your own attorney setting forth the circumstances of the Judgment of Divorce and setting forth further your authority under the Judgment of Divorce to travel abroad with the children.
If you are not the primary custodian of the child(ren) (that is, you do not have joint legal custody or you only have parenting time with the child(ren), it is critical that you obtain a statement from the other parent or, if necessary, ask the court that divorced you for an order allowing you to take the child(ren) on this specific trip for the dates, times, and locations to which you are traveling.
Imagine how disappointed your children will be if they find that their long awaited vacation stops at the airport before you get off the ground. Make sure you plan ahead to prevent that from happening. If you have any questions or want to be sure you are squared away for any future trips you want to take, contact one of our Michigan family law attorneys – we will be happy to explain.