State of Florida Custody Laws for Vacations
By Heather Frances J.D.
For divorcing parents, summer vacations can present a particular challenge since child custody is often a hot topic in the divorce. In Florida, parents can generally take their children on vacation during the time they already have physical custody or visitation rights. But you can design your visitation, or time-sharing, schedule to directly address vacations through temporary orders before your divorce or through permanent orders incorporated into your final divorce decree and effective after your divorce.
No Time-Sharing Schedule
If there is no court-ordered, time-sharing schedule or other order in place, it is up to you and your spouse to agree on a way to share time with your children until the divorce is final and the court orders a time-sharing schedule. A permanent order may not address vacations, however, unless you specifically request it. If you cannot agree on vacations or other time-sharing issues before the divorce is final, you may have to ask the court for a temporary order to address these issues. Otherwise, you risk complicating your vacation plans if your spouse calls the police and claims you took the children without legal permission.
If the court has ordered a time-sharing schedule, temporary or permanent, your vacation plans must match that schedule. For example, if your schedule says you get to take your children on vacations during your normally-scheduled parenting time, you do not have a right to vacation with them when it is your spouse’s turn to have them. Generally, you and your spouse can agree to alterations of the time-sharing schedule, such as extending the vacation a few days in exchange for a shorter vacation next year, but it is usually a good idea to get such agreements in writing.
If you are concerned that your spouse may take the children for a “vacation” and never come back, you can ask the judge for an order preventing the removal of the children from Florida. Typically, Florida judges put special protections in place if they believe there is substantial evidence that a parent might violate the existing parenting plan or time-sharing schedule by taking a child out of the state or country. This type of order prevents either of you from removing your child from the state or country without notarized written permission from both parents.
The judge could also prohibit either of you from taking the child to a country that does not follow certain rules on international child abduction, force you to surrender your child’s passport or post a bond large enough to discourage abduction. If your child does not already have a passport, federal laws generally require both parents to sign the passport application. And, even when a child has a passport, other countries can require the written consent of both parents when a child travels across their borders with only one parent.
Modification of Time-Sharing Schedule
If your time-sharing schedule becomes outdated or too difficult to administer at some point in the future, you may need to return to court to modify it. For example, if you want to take your children on extended vacations during their summer break but your time-sharing schedule does not give you enough time during the summers, you may ask the court for a modification. Generally, you file your modification petition in the same court that issued your most recent time-sharing order. You must be able to show the court that circumstances have changed in a substantial, material and unanticipated way, and that the modification you are requesting is in the best interests of your child.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.