Legal Question in Family Law in Washington

My wife is the custodial parent of her daughter, and we are having an issue with her ex regarding the summer visitation schedule. My wife emailed her ex on April 25th, 2013 stating that she would like to take vacation from 17 June through 23 June because her best friend would be in town for that week. Her ex claimed that he never received her email, and due to the short notice, his reply was that he would like to have vacation beginning 26 June, through 3 July, which would then run into his holiday weekend for the 4th of July. The problem is that in the parenting plan it states that the "vacationing parent shall provide the other parent with a written itinerary of where the child will be staying during the vacation; including the address and telephone number of each place the child will be staying, at least 10 days prior to the scheduled departure date." It is our interpretation that, although he has no plans to leave his home during that time, he should have provided at a minimum of 10 days notice of his intent to take vacation since the itinerary is supposed to be submitted at least 10 days in advance. He stated that he only need submit an itinerary and that ten days notice is not required. However, it states 10 days prior to the SCHEDULED departure date, which we interpret as the vacation has to have already been scheduled.

The only other part of the section pertaining to dates of the vacation states "The parties shall exchange proposed vacation dates in writing by April 1st of each year. If the vacation dates conflict, in even years the father's dates control and in odd years the mother's dates control. In the event one parent does not submit the proposed vacation time(s) by April 1st, the parent who submitted the vacation schedule on time shall have priority."

I guess my question would be does my wife have to allow the vacation he has requested at the last minute, as it seems that it is only being requested because he is angry that her vacation dates conflicted with his weekend schedule, and he did not get his weekend.

Asked on 6/24/13, 1:54 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Amir John Showrai The Pacific Law Firm, PLLC

If I understand you correctly, your problem is not that the father of the child has requested vacation time, but rather that he has not provided an itinerary showing the places he plans to stay as well as the contact information including phone number for those places. If he did provide that information, he would have provided his home address and phone number. You also state that he has provided less than 10 days' notice, which is required for the itinerary, address, and phone information, and you seek to apply that as a minimum 10 day notice of intended vacation dates as well, even though the 10 day notice only applies to the itinerary, address, and phone contact information. On that basis, you are wondering whether you can deny him vacation from June 26 through July 3.

Based on your explanation of the language of the parenting plan, I suppose you could claim that he is in violation of the parenting plan by not providing his dates at least 10 days prior to the start of the vacation and to include the address and phone number. However, I think most commissioners and King County would think that you are being silly and petty by making such a claim without some further explanation or context. If you are in fact aware that he will be staying at home, you already have this information and providing it redundantly to satisfy the technical letter of the parenting plan is pretty tacky tacky. To succeed, what the court will want to know is why that is so important? In other words, by failing to provide his home address and phone number even though you already know this information, I think the Commissioner will want to know what the harm is.

Assuming for a moment that the commissioner agrees that the ten-day requirement to provide the address and phone contact information means that you have to have at least 10 days notice of intended vacation, then regarding your position that he should've provided a minimum of 10 days notice before taking any vacation, that is a much more are cut violation. Having been in this situation many times with my own clients, I will give you similar advice. If the 10 days notice, or lack thereof, is in any way harmful to your plans, then I think you are on solid ground to say he cannot have that time since you already have plans. If on the other hand it does not impact you in any meaningful way except for the fact that you are annoyed by his disregard of the Court order to provide a minimum of 10 days notice, I would advise that you let it slide, but inform him in writing that you are doing so despite the fact that he has not complied with the parenting plan's requirement to give you the proper amount of notice and then tell him that in the future you reserve the right to refuse to accommodate his request without the minimum required amount of time.

To explore for a moment the idea that the commissioner does not agree that the 10 day requirement applies to anything other than the address, itinerary and phone contact information, then he does not need to provide any notice provided he stays home. I think that's where your logic is correct that the parties intended there to be a 10 day requirement at a minimum of the intent to take a vacation in the first place.

Often times, people who have a contentious relationship with at least one child in between seek to do whatever they can to "score points" against the other by denying visitation because of a technical violation of the parenting plan or by calling somebody into court on a motion for contempt because of a violation of the parenting plan that may in all likelihood not be a really big deal, but it's something that they do as a way to hurt the other parent thinking that it helps them in some way. This is the kind of thing that tends to be seen as highly counterproductive and definitely not in your child's best interest. That's not to say a parent is not legally entitled to do this, because that is a separate question (am I legally entitled to do this?). The question here is "will this help the child in some way?"

There are also often power struggles between the parents, and again the child is caught in between. Sometimes, you need to take action to establish boundaries with the other parent who may have boundary issues as to their authority or efforts to continue to control you. This is why you would want to contemporaneously document the fact that you are allowing the visitation to take place without the proper amount of notice, but that you basically reserve the right to refuse a visit that does not comply with the notice requirement in the future. If you document enough of these instances and later on you do wind up in court, you can pull out these contemporaneous documents to show that there is a pattern or history of such behavior, and that you are not overreacting or merely trying to punish the non-compliant parent for no good reason.

Each case has to be considered on its own, so what may be right in your case may not be right and the next person's case. For that reason, I would advise you to seek the advice of local counsel before you make a decision on how to deal with this. Sometimes, that investment in 30 to 60 minutes of an attorney's time may save you several thousand dollars down the line. If there was an attorney representing your wife in the dissolution, that person is likely very familiar with the case and would not need much time to get caught up on the facts and could likely render an informed opinion very quickly. If such an attorney is not available, then you may want to consider investing in somebody else to handle these kinds of questions down the road. Again, as a practical matter, I recognize that it is very expensive to do this, but consider how much more expensive it will be if you make an error and then are required to hire an attorney to undo that error. It tends to become the very definition of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Best of luck to you and your wife.

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Answered on 6/24/13, 3:27 pm

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