While the Parent’s Away…Joint Custody of Teenagers and Business Travel

In Massachusetts last February, a 16-year-old hosted a “rager” of a teen party after his parents flew to Paris for a vacation, and the party apparently got very out of control. Advertised on Facebook, the party drew more than 100 guests. The combination of underage celebrants and alcohol led to more than $45,000 worth of damage to the house, and four teens were arrested.

The incident highlights concerns parents have about leaving teens home alone while on vacation. But what about divorced parents with joint custody whose careers take them out of town?

While raising teens is hard enough in this age of online social networking, raising teens while on the road is even harder. For divorced parents who travel for business, the problems can become even more complex. Teens are just that – teens. They’re not children, but not yet adults. They still need guidance and supervision and can’t be left alone for long periods. For divorced parents, while the marriage failed, communication with the ex-spouse can’t when it applies to their teen, especially when parents are called out of town during periods when the child is in their custody.

Divorced parents must be open to less stringent custody schedules, in effect covering for each other if one is called away. If both are called away on business, then a guardian (a friend or family member) should be available. In some cases, grandparents are around the corner. In other cases, you’ll have to rely on a good friend or even the parents of one of your teen’s friends to help out. There are options. One option parents shouldn’t use is leaving a teen home alone — this may not only be a recipe for trouble, but could also put a child in danger.

Parents who leave teens home alone may also find themselves dealing with larger legal questions, scrutiny and legal liability in the event of a situation like the Massachusetts party. (Did the parents know about the party before leaving? Do they allow underage drinking? What if another teen was injured inside the home?)

As for teens, clear rules must be established when one or both parents are traveling. Most importantly, no visitors should be allowed inside the home when parents are away. Adding a curfew and a requirement to call or text their whereabouts daily can also give parents a measure of ease.

If you have additional questions regarding custody plans, an experienced family law attorney can advise you of your options.