Summer holidays: A catalyst for divorce?
Van Hilten Advocaten & Mediators (previously Van Hilten de Vries van Ruitenbeek) specialises in (inter)national family law. Edith van Ruitenbeek, lawyer, mediator and partner at Van Hilten, explains why the summer holiday is not always a breeze. Sometimes, divorce complicates things.
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”.
Luckily, most of the time it works! However, sometimes the summer holidays catalyse frictions or problems that are lingering beneath the surface. In my practice as a family lawyer, I always see a peak of crises before the summer holidays and then another peak after the holidays.
Holidays to come
Especially in divorce situations, and unfortunately, even after a divorce parents sometimes use holidays as an excuse to continue their battles as ex-partners. For instance, they might not give the other parent permission to take the children abroad, or simply not hand over the children’s passports.
I always start by trying to find an amicable solution. Offering alternatives sometimes helps. As does mentioning the fact that 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 and the other parent afterwards.
Unfortunately, however, there are parents who do not behave as a parent should, resulting in 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, aged 11 and 9, in the first half of the summer holidays. This was 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 planned. When the father got a new partner however, 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 for “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 therefore must be given in time, and that they should arrange this in the parenting plan. I also advise that they include who the keeper of the passports is, that this parent will supply the passports for cross-border travelling, 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 holiday plans well in advance, if possible, and to ask the other parent to sign the consent letter for minors travelling abroad in time as well, in order to prevent last-minute stress - especially for the children.
I supply these forms, but many airlines, including KLM, offer them as downloads on their websites as well.
Holiday must-have list
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.
If the holidays were a disaster
After the holidays, we see another peak in family crises. This is sometimes because the children have not returned from abroad, or have returned too late to go on holiday with the other parent. Or 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 is 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 having 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 to mediation. But, most importantly, mediation helps the parties to 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 both parties want to reach an agreement, but the difference in skills and knowledge between the spouses is too big, and therefore creates an imbalance too great to allow for mediation, a collaborative divorce (CD) might be a better option. In this case, both parties choose their own lawyer to protect their interests.
These lawyers, trained in CD, more or less assume the position of a 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.
Need specific advice about your particular situation? For this and any other questions, you can contact Edith and her colleagues directly.