Edith van Ruitenbeek
In general, a break once in a while – from your daily challenges and tasks – is considered healthy, especially in our modern world. Whether this is to soak up the sun, get some physical exercise, play with your children, contemplate life, discover other cultures, or simply indulge in a little dolce far niente or changer d’air – the aim is to recover and to hit ‘reset’.
Most of the time it works. Luckily!
However, sometimes the summer holidays catalyse frictions or problems that are lingering beneath the surface. In my practice as a family lawyer, I always register a peak of crises before the summer holidays and then another a peak after the holidays.
Holidays to Come
Especially in divorce situations, and unfortunately even after a divorce, parents sometimes use the holidays as an excuse to continue their battles as ex-partners. For instance, by not giving permission to the other parent to take the children abroad, or by not handing over the children’s passports in order to go to another country.
I always start by trying to find an amicable solution. Dousing the adrenaline or offering alternatives sometimes helps. As does mentioning the fact the it is in the interest of the children to spend holidays with both parents – in an atmosphere that permits them to actually enjoy these holidays, and to be enthusiastic about their holidays afterwards, also towards the other parent.
Unfortunately, however, there are parents who do not behave as a parent should, creating the need to go to a judge to clear things up. Which means that not only the children are victimised yet again, but also the parents; after all, the stress level for the so-called adults is not healthy either. Hopefully, the judge then makes clear that this behaviour must end, immediately.
I remember a British father who proudly planned a trip to the 2012 Olympics in London with his children, ages 11 and 9, in the first half of the summer holidays. This, in keeping with the parenting plan he and his ex-wife had drawn up two years earlier, in which they agreed that – in even years – the children were to stay with him the first three weeks of the summer holidays. During the first two years, things went as agreed. When, however, the father got a new partner, everything changed. The mother started to manipulate the children, planning activities during the father’s weekends and making contact between father and children difficult. At the start of the 2012 summer holidays, she did not take the children to their father as per the parenting plan, but instead took them to a sailing course in Friesland, which she had planned without consultation. Of course, proceedings followed and the judge was not amused. And, of course, the children suffered.
A Dutch KLM captain had to go to court last year, when his daughter’s mother would not give him the girl’s passport and her written consent to take the daughter to Zanzibar – although the holiday was scheduled in ‘his half’ of the summer holidays and in accordance with his flight schedule, meaning that his plans had been announced well in advance. The judge urged the mother to cooperate, threatening a penalty if she didn’t. The mother decided to cooperate after all – just in time.
Consent Letter for Minors Travelling Abroad
When I am mediating a divorce, I always mention the fact that a consent letter for travelling abroad will be required and must therefore be given on time, and that they should arrange this in the parenting plan. I also advise that they include in this plan who is the keeper of the passports, that this parent will supply the passports for cross-border travelling on time, and of course that the other parent will return them after the trip. For expat parents this is even more important.
I advise all my clients to make their vacation plans well in advance, if possible, and to ask the other parent to sign the consent letter for minors travelling abroad on time as well, in order to prevent stress at the last moment – especially for the children.
I supply these forms, but many airlines, at least KLM, offer these downloads on their website too.
When you are aware of this necessity, you simply add the consent letter to your must-have list for preparing for the holidays – just as you remind yourself to buy alcohol tests when driving in France, or to arrange a Schengen declaration when, for instance, you have to bring methylphenidate for your child who suffers from ADHD, etc. etc.
If the Holidays Were a Disaster
After the holidays, we see another peak in family crises. Sometimes because the children have not (been) returned from abroad, or have (been) returned too late to go on holiday with the other parent, or because they have returned miserable and unkempt – for instance, with a neglected fractured arm, without adequate clothing, etc.
If my clients are new – after the holidays – they sit down at my table and sigh that the holidays were a disaster, the marriage is over and that divorce the only solution they can think of. The question then is; how.
As a family lawyer, I always try to empower my new divorce clients, by making them consider divorce as a transfer from married life to a life after marriage. I also suggest considering mediation, as most divorce disputes lend themselves well for mediation. But, most importantly, mediation helps parties arrive at a solution together, increasing their commitment to, and acceptance of, this solution.
From experience, I can confirm that mediation is, indeed, an excellent route to take. And that expats, more than average, are open to mediation.
When parties want to reach an agreement, but the difference in skills and knowledge between the spouses is too big and therefore creates a imbalance too great to allow for mediation, a collaborative divorce might be a better option. In this case, both parties choose their own lawyer to protect their interests. These lawyers, trained as CD lawyers, more or less assume the position of mediator when addressing the issues that arise. A coach with a psychological background structures the process, also pointing out – and offering guidance on – possible child-related problems at an early stage. The common goal of this team of five is to reach the best possible solution for both partners and their children. In financially complex cases, the services of an independent financial and/or tax advisor can be arranged.
And sometimes, unfortunately, going to court is the only solution.
The ultimate goal of any divorce is to create the best possible conditions for a life after divorce, including holidays – allowing everyone to ‘reset’ for a healthier future.
Edith van Ruitenbeek is lawyer and partner at van Hilten Advocaten & Mediators
Nassaulaan 15, The Hague, and De Lairessestraat 129, Amsterdam.