PA Child Custody - Do I need court approval to take my children on an extended vacation?

Question: My ex and I do not have a child custody order from a Pennsylvania family court.  Do I need court approval to take my children on an extended vacation this summer?

Short Answer: It depends on whether both parents can agree or not.

  • Both Parents Agree:  You do not need court approval if you and your ex-husband or ex-wife can agree on the summer vacation custody schedule.  However, you should still get help from a child custody lawyer to write and file a consent order so that the agreement is enforceable.
  • One Parent Does Not Agree: You will need court approval if your ex-husband or ex-wife does not agree on your extended summer vacation plans with your children.

See below for a detailed discussion regarding this issue.

Question: I am divorced and have shared custody of my two children with my ex-husband.  When we got divorced, my ex and I agreed that we would always put our children first and do what is best for them.  We don’t have a custody order, and we have been able to work out the schedule ourselves.  We have also been flexible with the schedule too.  When one of us wanted an extra day with our children due to vacation or any other reason, we have been able to work it out.  This summer I want to take our kids for 2 weeks to travel overseas.  When I discussed it with my ex at first, he was okay with it.  However, when he found out my boyfriend would be traveling with us, he changed his tune and said he will think about it.  Even if he does agree to it, I am a bit worried that he may later change his mind again.  Should I have him sign an agreement if he agrees to the 2 week vacation?  Do I have to go to court for this? If I do have to go to court, what is the likelihood that the court will grant the vacation?

Answer:  It would be ideal if you can work it out with your ex-husband.  Your concern that he may change his mind is valid, and it does happen.  A verbal agreement or even a written agreement between you and your ex is not enforceable.  The written agreement is only enforceable if it is filed with the court.   Therefore, it is best to have a Pennsylvania child custody lawyer help you.  The lawyer would write a consent order, which would state that you and your ex agree that you can take your children for a 2 week vacation out of the country, and file it with the court.  Having a lawyer help you with a consent order does not necessarily mean you will have to go to court.  The lawyer would file the consent order on your behalf.

Related: Bucks County Child Custody Case - How Summer Vacation Affect Child Custody Arrangements [Our PA child custody lawyers discuss different summer vacation child custody schedules.]

If you cannot work out an agreement with your husband, it is best to consult a lawyer as soon as possible.  Summer is only a couple of months away, and you want to make sure you get this resolved as soon as possible, not a week before your planned vacation.  Therefore, contact a PA child custody lawyer right away to ensure that your planned vacation is not impacted.  You don’t want to be dealing with a custody battle during the summer.

If you and your ex cannot agree and you decide to go forward with a custody hearing, we cannot tell you whether the court will grant your request.  What we can tell you is that the court will use the same standards and law it uses to determine child custody in general.  The guiding standard for the family court is “the best interests of the child.”  See Doylestown and Newtown Custody Cases - How is Custody Decided in Pennsylvania?

As you said, you and your ex have agreed to put your children first.  It is important to remember that for the sake of the children, you need to communicate with each other.  You don’t want to go straight to court before talking about this further.  He may have concerns because your kids will be with another adult that he doesn’t know very well, i.e., your boyfriend. Perhaps by talking to your ex about your boyfriend and explaining your itinerary in detail, such as where you are staying, what you are doing, etc., he may come around.

We are happy to help you with your situation.  Feel free to call the child custody lawyers at Zlock & Coverdale® to schedule a consultation.