Parenting Exchanges When You and Your Ex Live in Different Locations
Parenting with your ex-partner can be tough, and the difficulties associated with parenting are exacerbated when you and your co-parent live in different provinces, or even different countries.
Generally, when co-parents live in the same city exchanges of the child for parenting time occur at one or both parties’ houses, the child’s school, or in a case of high conflict, a neutral location.
When one party must travel in order to exercise their parenting time, however, a number of new issues arise including who pays for the costs of access (e.g., gas, travel, hotels/ Airbnbs, etc.) and where the child will be exchanged.
Airlines these days offer a mandatory unaccompanied minor program, for a small fee, in which children flying alone will be given special care and attention by airline staff. The program includes assistance escorting children to their gate, ensuring they have access to any medications they may need, and managing their safety and care while on the flight. Most airports will permit the parent to accompany the child to the gate and ensure they board the flight. Utilizing these services could significantly reduce the burden placed on the parent residing outside the child’s home city.
The specifications of the unaccompanied minor program vary from airline to airline, but most airlines do not permit the child to fly alone before they are eight years old. Some examples of airline age requirements include the following:
- WestJet requires that children aged 8-12 utilize the unaccompanied minor program and has it as an optional service for children aged 12-18;
- Air Canada requires that children aged 8-12 utilize the unaccompanied minor program and has it as an optional service for children aged 12-17;
- American Airlines, United, and Delta require that children aged 5-14 utilize the unaccompanied minor program and has it as an option for children aged 15-17; and
- Air Transat requires that children aged 8-11 utilize the unaccompanied minor program and has it as an option for children aged 12-17.
While there is limited case law on this issue, Canadian courts have offered some guidance:
- In Barnhard v Hawes, 2017 NSSC 249 the Honourable Justice Beryl MacDonald of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia ordered that the child, who was six years old at the time, could not travel alone to have parenting time with his Father who resides in the United States until he was 13 years old.
- In O. v. K.J., 2007 ABPC 176 the Honourable Judge E.R.R. Carruthers of the Provincial Court of Alberta opined as follows at para 32 referring to the Father who lived in Vancouver and wished to have parenting time with the then eight year old child:
“When the father had arranged for a visit with the child in Vancouver, it was his expectation that the child would fly alone as an unaccompanied minor, notwithstanding the child had not previously flown. This does not appear to me to be a reasonable expectation and did not appear to be reasonable to the mother who accompanied the child at her own expense.”
However, Judge Carruthers went on to say “The child is old enough to travel on his own and can now do so…” There were conditions put in place on the Father’s parenting time, including providing the Mother with confirmation of arrangements made with the unaccompanied minor program.
- Perhaps one of the most applicable cases comes from the Supreme Court of British Columbia, in Kanta v. Kanta, 2015 BCSC 2479, in which the Honourable Justice Kent “reluctantly” refused to order that the Father was in contempt for failing to follow a court order because the applicable order did not expressly provide that the child was permitted to fly utilizing the unaccompanied minor program (at para 41). Justice Kent goes on to order that the Father reimburse the Mother for the child’s missed flight and grants the Mother’s application permitting the child to travel utilizing the unaccompanied minor program (paras 53-54).
- In the case of D. v A.B, 2016 SKQB 164 the additional cost of the unaccompanied minor program was raised in a relocation case and was factored in when determining the best interests of the child and the likelihood that the child would have access to both parents.
These cases demonstrate that when before a judge, in cases where the parties live in different locations, it may be prudent to expressly ask that the order include confirmation of the child’s ability to fly utilizing the unaccompanied minor program.
At the end of the day, it is the parents who will know best whether the child is mature enough to fly safely alone. In coming years, with more and more people moving abroad to access employment opportunities, it may become commonplace for parties to bring evidence before the court regarding the child’s ability to fly unaccompanied.