Ahead Will reduce
With half of all marriages ending in
divorce, and with Hawaii having one of America’s highest rates of
transience (people moving in and out of state) it’s no surprise that
lots of divorced parents wind up geographically separated from their kids.
Possibly mom and dad were both local folks who got divorced, and one later
moved to Las Vegas for job opportunities. Perhaps dad was in the military,
married a local girl while stationed here, and then got divorced at his
next duty station, with mom coming home to Honolulu.
In “long distance” cases of this sort,
the Family Court will generally order two lengthier periods of “extended
visitation” per year. Depending on the kids’ school calendar, this
will generally be a long period in the summer (up to eight weeks) and one
other school holiday. The most common arrangement for the other school
holiday is to alternate Christmas and Spring Break.
One would think that this would be a fairly
simple undertaking, but it’s amazing to see how many things can go
wrong. Thus, not surprisingly, the period just before these school
vacations and just afterwards are often the busiest for family law
attorneys. Before the visit, mom won’t send the kids, or dad is refusing
to pay for the tickets, or maybe mom won’t let them fly alone and
insists that dad escort them. Sometimes one parent tries to dictate to the
other just what the kids can and cannot do while on the visit.
While most of the problems are
parent-generated, kids can often promote their parents’ conflicts. At
the beginning of the visit, some kids just refuse to go. For younger
children, the fear of the trip and/or separation from the custodial parent
is often the cause. Older children have different agendas. One teenage boy
didn’t want to spend the summer with his dad because he wanted to hang
out with his girlfriend, and besides, the prior summer, his dad was at
work most of the time and used him as free labor to paint his house.
We also get those kids that don’t want to
go back home once the visit is over. Typically the kids will say that they
don’t want to leave – the non-custodial parent then interprets this as
the green light not to send them home and to instead apply for a change of
custody. Sometimes children tell stories of abuse at home, and it can be
pretty tough for a parent to try to figure out whether there’s really
something to it, or whether the kids are just being little manipulators.
When one parent sees the kids only on vacations and does all the “fun
things” with them, while the other parent is the “school parent” who
makes them do their homework, go to bed on time, etc. it isn’t hard to
figure out which parent the kids would rather be with.
There are some things that geographically
separated parents can do to avoid conflict. First, the non-custodial
parent should try to maintain appropriate communication with the kids
throughout the year, not just at vacation time. Besides calls and cards,
the Internet and web-cams provide a great opportunity for “face to
If their court orders aren’t already
specific enough, parents should agree in advance on when the visit period
begins and ends. For example, “eight weeks during the summer vacation
period” doesn’t tell you when it begins and ends. A better arrangement
is to agree that junior will be on the plane to Honolulu within one week
of the ending of the school term. The same precision can be applied to the
ending date and return home time.
flights, escorts and airport pickups can also be fruitful ground for
argument. The airlines already have rules about ages for children to
travel unescorted, and they have procedures for making sure kids with
connecting flights actually get on them and are
we’ve got lots of good advice to help parents keep out of court, the sad
reality is that some are inevitably going to wind up there. If “Peace on
Earth” didn’t accurately describe your holiday, then a good family law
attorney may be the best present you can give yourself.