Posted July 11, 2020
Generally, New Jersey Superior Court Judges find that it is in a child’s best interest to spend time vacationing with both parents. Accordingly, the allowance for each party to exercise vacation time is frequently set forth in either a Property Settlement Agreement or Court Order.
In New Jersey, it is quite common for a Court Order to allow for divorced or separated parents to exercise two non-consecutive weeks of vacation respectively, on an annual basis. This vacation time is to be exercised while the children are out of school, usually in the summer or during other extended breaks. Vacation time supersedes the regular parenting time schedule, but it generally does not supersede the Court Holiday Schedule.
Unfortunately, although Orders provide the parties the ability to exercise vacation time with their children, many Court Orders do not provide any additional guidance for parents. It is important for parties to communicate regarding proposed vacation parenting time to avoid unnecessary conflict, post-judgment litigation, and the incurrence of additional attorney’s fees.
First, parents should always discuss and attempt to agree on appropriate notice to the other parent of their intention to exercise vacation time. A common timeframe is between thirty (30) and sixty (60) days’ notice prior to the start of the proposed vacation. Some parties elect to have the notice placed in writing to avoid any future misunderstanding. An agreement on adequate notice allows the parties to avoid a situation where both parents seek to vacation during the same time period and/or one parent schedules another activity that will be in conflict. Additionally, in situations involving overseas travel, the parties should set forth an additional timeframe to allow for the exchange of passports and other necessary travel documentation.
Second, parents should always openly communicate regarding details of their trip. It is highly recommended that parents share, well in advance of the trip, flight itineraries, cruise itineraries, hotel stay information (e.g. address and telephone number), and the names of all individuals traveling etc. This will provide the non-vacationing parent with peace of mind and avoid confusion during the vacation.
Third, the parties should also coordinate to allow for the non-vacationing parent to have reasonable communication with the child during the vacation. While this communication should not interfere with planned activities on the trip, it is reasonable to allow for regular contact while one parent is traveling with the child. Telephone and/or video calls for a set amount of time “to check in” daily is not unreasonable and should be considered by the parties.
Finally, in the age of COVID-19, many parents have raised concerns regarding their child traveling within the State of New Jersey or across state lines with the other parent. Courts will continue to enforce prior Orders and allow for parents to exercise vacation time. However, parents are always expected to act in their child’s best interests and make decisions to avoid any danger to a child’s safety or welfare.
In evaluating vacation time, parents should be cognizant of whether a proposed vacation is truly in a child’s best interests. As Governor Philip D. Murphy continues to extend the list of states that would require a 14-day quarantine period upon return to New Jersey due to COVID-19 outbreaks in other states, this should be a consideration for all parents. Parents must consider whether the benefit of a vacation is worth the child being required to remain quarantined and miss any of his or her planned activities for two weeks following their return.
When issues of vacation parenting time are presented to the Court, Judges will evaluate each case before them based on the specific facts and circumstances unique to the parties. If you have any questions regarding vacation and/or holiday parenting time in the State of New Jersey, please contact my office.
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