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My son lives with my ex-wife most of the time. I live in a different state, and I get him on holidays, spring break, and the whole summer. For Christmas this year we are going to my parents’ house, 12 hours away. We will get home the night before he leaves. My ex is responsible for getting him to my house, and I am responsible to get him back to her house. My son is 8 and handles things very well. He is willing to take the short, nonstop flight back to his mother’s state unaccompanied, but his mother does not want him to do so. Should I let him fly without her permission? I cannot drive him back, as I could lose my job if I don’t show up for work Monday.
You’re asking three questions.
First, is it OK for an 8-year-old to fly alone?
The answer is yes, if the child is mature enough. Most airlines don’t have a problem with passengers that young flying unattended. But my son, also 8, would not be able to do it. You know your son, and if you think he can handle it, he probably can. However, your ex-wife obviously disagrees with you about this, and she presumably knows your son as well as you do.
Second, is it OK to let him fly alone against his mother’s wishes?
That’s a more complicated question. Legally, you’re probably OK. But legality isn’t the most important issue.
Right now, you have a custody agreement that seems to be working. If you get along fairly well with your ex-wife, is it worth jeopardizing the relationship over a plane flight? Custody issues are messy at the best of times, and as the noncustodial parent in a different state, you have more to lose (read: time with your son) if she decides to make an issue of this.
Third, why aren’t you changing your plans?
You shouldn’t just dismiss your ex-wife’s concerns out of hand. The solo flight may very well be safe for your son. But you should allow for the possibility that you are wrong about this and she is right. Not to mention the fact that plenty of reasonable people would feel as your wife does. If one of those reasonable people happens to be, say, a family-court judge, this is a fight you do not want to pick.
Understand that I don’t know your ex-wife. I don’t know if she is pugnacious or litigious enough to consider this issue worthy of challenging a custody agreement. I also don’t know if any such effort would succeed. Do you know the answer to those questions?
You may be OK with the flight, but that doesn’t mean your ex-wife’s reservations about the trip are necessarily foolish or short-sighted.
Consider your options.
- You could come home a day earlier. Yes, you’ve already made the plans. But you can change them. Your ex-wife knows that.
- You could also talk to individuals at work. Swap a day with a co-worker, if possible.
- Perhaps you could get one of your parents to drive your son. Spring for an extra airline ticket on the trip back from visiting your parents and rent a car for your mother or father or another willing relative to drive your son back to his mother’s home.
- You could bargain with your ex. If she agrees to drive down and pick him up this time, you’ll do the same next time he comes to visit you. Or offer to buy her a round-trip plane ticket to accompany him on the flight.
I realize none of these options are convenient. But this isn’t about your convenience. It’s about your son’s safety. Right now, you are considering only two options: allowing your son to fly solo against his mother’s will, and losing your job to drive him back yourself. There are probably other options available.
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