This time of year, family law practitioners are often inundated with questions from clients re vacation schedules, travel itineraries.
Holiday Season Past:
Some of the routine issues we normally deal with are:
When does my holiday vacation start? Who gets Christmas this year? I thought I got Christmas every year?
When can I get an itinerary from the other parent who is traveling with the children? What if I don’t get an itinerary? Can I stop the trip?
What if he (she) refuses to turn over the passport(s), the child(ren) for my vacation? Can you or the court force him (her) to turn them over to me? When do the courts close for the holidays? What if they don’t deliver the child(ren) and I lose all my money and can’t take the trip?
Travel Restrictions Coast to Coast:
As of October 21, 2020, the CDC recommended that:
Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
You can get COVID-19 during your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can still spread COVID-19 to others. You and your travel companions (including children) may spread COVID-19 to other people including your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you were exposed to the virus.
Don’t travel if you are sick or if you have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Don’t travel with someone who is sick.
It is notable that the reported cases in November 2020 more than doubled the reported cases of October 2020 without including the expected increases in cases and deaths from the Thanksgiving travel which are expected to be high. The recommendations re STAYING HOME will undoubtedly only get louder and more intense.
Before any travel, no matter how ill advised, you must check the requirements of the state you are traveling to. If you plan as perhaps in years past, to arrive the day before Christmas, you may find yourself alone in quarantine because the state requirements prevent you from otherwise.
To look at a few states, the below show the vast differences state to state that can impact on your travel plans.
Alaska: Nonresidents and residents entering the state must fill out a traveler declaration form listing where they’ve traveled in the previous two weeks by using the Alaska Travel Portal. Residents who’ve been out of state for longer than 72 hours are asked to take a free COVID-19 test upon their return or can instead choose to quarantine for two weeks (they’ll need to submit a self-isolation plan through the portal). Visitors are strongly encouraged to take a test within 72 hours of their arrival (they need to upload their negative result or proof of test taken into the travel portal); if not, they can either be tested on arrival (for $250 per test) and quarantine until they receive results. Unlike Alaska residents, nonresidents can no longer opt out of testing and self-quarantine for two weeks instead. Everyone arriving is asked to social distance for five days — meaning they should keep the usual 6 feet away from others, as well as stay out of indoor public areas, such as restaurants — because five days is the median incubation period.
Maine: Those visiting Maine are required to show a negative COVID-19 test result or opt to self-quarantine for 14 days. They now also need to fill out a certificate of compliance, assuring that they will follow the rules, and submit it to their place of lodging. Travelers from only Vermont and New Hampshire are considered low-risk and therefore exempt.
New York: The state had been particularly tough with its two-week quarantine rule for visitors, but, as of Nov. 4, New York is allowing visitors to offer a negative COVID-19 test as an alternative. Anyone who has been out of state for more than 24 hours “must obtain a test within three days of departure, prior to arrival in New York,” and quarantine for three days. On the fourth day, if another test comes back negative, they can exit quarantine. Everyone arriving also needs to fill out the state’s health form.
Penalties: a $2,000 fine for the first violation, $5,000 for the second and up to $10,000 if the person causes harm. Visitors arriving by air who refuse to fill out the health form are subject to a $2,000 fine “and may be brought to a hearing and ordered to complete mandatory quarantine.”
This is but a random sampling from all fifty states published online by www.aarp.org/travel/quarantine.
As the virus spread worsens and we listen to reports of “super spreader” events nationwide, the constant refrain from health professionals, at least those who appear regularly on TV and in social media, all recommend NO travel. “Stay home in 2020 so you can be together in 2021” is a constant refrain.
Holiday Season Present:
This year the questions being asked of me have a more ominous underpinning:
We are divorcing and my husband wants us all to travel to Miami for Christmas. I don’t want to go on the trip but he is being insistent. What should I do?
The issue here is somewhat more complex because if she allows her husband to take the two children without her upon their return to New York, she may find the children quarantined with her husband for an additional two weeks keeping them from her for potentially a month while in the midst of settlement negotiations surrounding the issue of child custody.
Another former client sent me a letter she had received from her ex husband’s attorney asking that their thirteen year old son leave 8th grade mid-year here in New York to attend a boarding school in Britain where the child had never visited and had never been to boarding school.
Travel This Year:
My very simple advice is “Don’t Travel”-stay home and be safe and have a happy holiday however you celebrate it at home. If you think that this COVID period is the time for you to advance your self interest as to custody of your children, please don’t. This is a difficult time for everyone… especially children. Watching their parents behave sanely and safely is the best gift you can give this December. Be mindful of the words in Auld Lang Syne…and take a cup of kindness dear. We all can use that more than a trip.