Child Custody Vacation Time Questions

Child custody and vacation time will generally be discussed in the parenting plan section of your divorce, but it doesn’t always outline everything specifically. This can lead to confusion and tension between you and your ex. 

If you are still working through the details of your divorce and parenting plan, you need to consider how vacations will be a handled in the future. 

Young girl enjoying the pool during her child custody vacation time.

You’ll want to make sure to define whether vacation time is fixed or flexible, how many weeks of vacation each parent will get, how the other parent will be notified about vacation times, and whether vacation time takes precedence over regular visitation. 

If your divorce has been finalized, you may now be realizing that your parenting plan didn’t specifically address all the issues that might come up. Other moms have faced this situation and have asked our legal advisor for her input. Keep reading to find out what she says...

What if the divorce papers didn't specify vacation times?

Angie's Question: My sister has sole physical and legal custody. There is nothing in the divorce paper about vacation times. Her ex says he has first choice and is telling her she has to work around his vacation time. Also, when he takes the kids on vacation, he won't tell her where they are going and when she talks to the kids he will not let them tell her where they are. Is there anything she can do about this situation?

Brette's Answer: She could request that the order be modified to specify when each vacation will be and that each parent must notify the other of contact information and location for the trip in advance. It can also specify contact with the children while they are away.

Are vacation times meant to occur while school is out for the summer?

Brittany's Question: In the matter of parenting time, my order states each parent shall have 2 weeks of uninterrupted vacation during summer.  We must notify each other 30 days in advance.  Does this imply that we should take our vacations while school is on school recess?  This is how we have been doing it for the last 7 years.  This year, my ex is asking for time when school is in session. 

Brette's Answer: Usually it means over summer break from school but your lawyer can tell you how your specific order is interpreted by courts in your state.  

How can I make sure he takes care of her during their vacation?

Amy Asks: My ex-husband wants to take our daughter for a 2 week vacation out of state. He hasn't really been involved with her for 7 months. We are meeting to discuss our daughter, her care, tips, and concerns. I want to be sure I am thinking of everything to bring up. I know I can't control what happens while with him, but things like, what is your plan on keeping our daughter from wandering into the pool area when no one is around? Who will be driving and caring for our daughter if you decide to have a few beers? My intent is not to tell him what to do, but to get him thinking like a parent. How do I handle this?

Brette's Answer: I commend you for wanting your daughter to spend time with her father. I can understand your concerns, especially since he is not familiar with her. What you might want to do is have him come over to your house on a few different days and let him see what she is like and what he can expect. He needs to understand her schedule, her needs, and what kind of trouble she could potentially get in. He should not drink at all when he is the primary caretaker and you need to make that clear to him. You could tell him to call you once a day to check in and you could then offer any advice necessary.

It's hard, but one thing you have to remember is that he may not do things the same way you would, but that doesn't mean he's doing it all wrong. Even moms who are married to their children's fathers often feel frustrated when he doesn't do things in the same way she would. You've got to give him the freedom to find his own style and develop his own relationship.

Writing out her daily schedule could be helpful. I would spend a lot of time talking about night time - what will he do if she is afraid or can't sleep? Does he understand she might be up at 6 and ready for the day? I think you're right to worry about a pool. He needs to know he has to go in with her and can never leave her unsupervised around a pool or body of water. Two weeks is a long time to spend together when they haven't seen each other in a long time, so he should be prepared for some separation anxiety - letting her talk to you on the phone should help. He might think he needs to have something planned every single second. Let him know she needs down time - time to just hang around the hotel room or wherever they are staying. Good luck!

He didn't request vacation time as directed in the visitation order.

Debra's Question: We have two daughters 17 & 11 and I have been compliant with visitation. However, he demanded to take them this month for vacation. The 17 year old is currently taking college classes during the summer and has exams next week. Our 11 year old says she will not go because she does not trust him; he lies, cusses, and drinks alcohol. He did not request the vacation as directed in the visitation policy (30 days prior to the commencement of the last day of school). Do they have to go with him on vacation?

Brette's Answer: No. If he didn't follow the process specified in the order, you're not obligated to send them. And the 17 year old would be able to say no regardless. Good luck.

What if my ex refused my vacation request because I notified him one day late?

Jerry's Question: I missed notifying my vacation time by one day and now my ex is refusing to allow me to take vacation time. Is there anything I can do?

Brette's Answer: You can file a motion in court asking the judge to approve it. Technically your ex is following the rules, but I know it is harsh. 

Is email considered written notice for a vacation time request?

A's Question: We are both allowed 14 days of summer vacation once per year and he is to provide 90 days written notice prior. The father only gave me 12 days notice by email saying "I want to take my first 7 day vacation on the first week of September"  Can I refuse to let him take our son on such short notice, and is email considered written notice?

Brette's Answer: An email is written notice, but if he is supposed to give 90 days notice and has not, it sounds like you can refuse.

Can he cut my vacation time with the kids short?

Question: I have my children for the agreed 2 week summer vacation. Can my ex cut the custody vacation time short and demand they be brought home?

Brette's Answer: No. The court order controls your time.

How is the regular visitation affected by vacation time?

Terese's Question: Would you please clarify something for me in the Custody Agreement? This past weekend was the Dad weekend. This week will be his vacation week from Wednesday to the following Wednesday. Normally it would have been Moms weekend next but they will be on vacation. Isn't it correct that following with the regular parenting schedule that it will then be Moms weekend when they return as it normally would have so he does not have three consecutive weekends in a row?

Brette's Answer: Generally, no. Vacation overrides the regular agreement. Once vacation is over you go back to the schedule. But you can certainly do it the other way if you both agree.

Can vacation time and visitation time run back to back?

Karen's Question: Under "Summer Schedule," our parenting plan states: "Parenting time proceeds as noted, with the exception that each parent reserves the right to an uninterrupted one-week vacation during the summer (TBD). Mother has priority in ODD years; Father has priority in EVEN years." Our standard summer parenting time is alternating weeks with each parent. Does this mean that on alternate years, the designated parent may choose any week they want as their preferred vacation week, potentially establishing a three-week stretch of parenting time?

Brette's Answer: That is how I would read that. Check with your attorney to determine how courts in your area interpret this. 

Can we vacation out of state if it doesn't interfere with visitation?

Mimi's Question: I have sole physical custody of our son and we have joint legal custody. Father has a visitation schedule. Am I allowed to take my child out of state for a vacation, if it does not interfere with visitation?

Brette's Answer: If your court order does not say you can't, then it shouldn't be a problem. It's always nice to notify the other parent as to where you're going. (Get more Post Divorce Vacation Pointers)

Do I need my ex's consent to take the kids to Mexico on vacation?

Nicole's Question: If I am the legal custodian and residential parent, do I need permission from my kids' father to take them to Mexico on vacation? They already have passports.

Brette's Answer: Not unless your order specifies it. In general it's good practice to let the other parent know in advance and give contact info for where you'll be.

Can he use his custody vacation time by taking all the weekends in December?

Question: I have a full physical custody and his father has visitation rights. We both have 3 weeks’ vacation time with our child per year. The father is planning on taking our son on “vacation” by taking all the weekends in December except the Christmas Eve that I have per court order this year. That makes my time with my son go down to 2 days a week for the whole month of December. Is there any way I can fight this?

Brette's Answer: You can file for modification of the order to clarify this. Usually vacation is taken over the summer or school breaks in consecutive weeks when the child is off from school. That is normally the intended meaning of the words, so I think the court would agree with you.

Is it reasonable if he wants visitation every school break plus summer vacation?

Elizabeth's Question: I am primary custodian of my son. My ex-husband moved out of state 2 years ago to be near his family, but now wants our son every summer in its entirety, every fall break and every spring break, alternating Thanksgiving and Christmas. This leaves me very little time outside of school/work to spend with my son.  I am fine splitting breaks. Will the courts give him ALL breaks, leaving me only weekends to travel and see family? What is a typical court ordered out of state plan?

Brette's Answer: Giving all holidays and the entire summer to one parent is generally not done. Considering that your ex chose to move and that this was not a situation you created, it is unreasonable to expect to be given all of the child's school vacations. I suggest you talk with an attorney who is familiar with what the courts in your area typically order in this type of situation. It would be more reasonable to alternate the winter and spring breaks and split the summer in half, or give your ex just one month in the summer. 

Is he in violation if he takes a vacation without the kids?

Maria's Question: My custody agreement includes a clause for 2 weeks of vacation for each parent with our children. My ex took a two week vacation without the kids, trying to pass it off as an exchange of weekends. He now wants to take the kids on a week's vacation and claims that I am violating his rights. I want to deter him from taking the kids, since I think he will be violating the agreement. Do I have a legal recourse to prevent him taking the kids or do I have to wait until he actually violates the agreement to take him to court?

Brette's Answer: If I am reading your email correctly, he went away for two weeks alone. He now wants to take a week with the children. Your agreement gives him two weeks of vacation. The agreement speaks to vacation time WITH the children and has nothing to do with what he does on his own time. If he chooses to go away for two weeks and does not exercise his visitation, that is his choice and his loss. There's nothing you can do about it. I can understand that it screws up your schedule and your children's schedule, but there's nothing you can do about it.

Is child support owed during summer vacation?

Janet's Question: What happens if the kids live with him and I will have them for a month this summer? Can I keep child support for that month since they will be with me and I will have to pay child care, food, etc.?

Brette's Answer: Child support is due whether the kids are with you or not.

Copyright | Updated May 9, 2023