Summer time is right around the corner and, for some divorced or separated parents, with summer comes a number of questions about custody and parenting time. Will the school year custody and parenting time schedule remain? Who gets to take the children on vacation – and when? Who pays for vacation, summer camps, and the like? Invariably, the answers to these and other questions depend on the facts and circumstances of each family.
The starting point for any parent with questions about the summer parenting time arrangement is the marital settlement agreement or court order. For many divorced and separated parents, a well-written divorce settlement agreement or order will define the custody and parenting time arrangement for the summer and address with specificity the division of time (regular summer parenting time, vacation time, etc.) and expenses (camps, trips with friends and extended family, extracurricular activities, etc.). Some people agree to keep the summer parenting time schedule the same as the school year schedule to preserve continuity and predictability in the children’s schedules. Others completely reverse the school year schedule so that the children can spend more time with the non-custodial parent, other family members and/or friends. There are, of course, also summer holidays (4th of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, birthdays, etc.) that are typically divided between parents pursuant to an agreement or court order.
If you do not have a comprehensive agreement or order addressing these issues, there is still time to do so before the summer begins. If you do not have an agreement/order and are unable to reach an understanding with your ex about summer plans for the children, you can apply to the court and ask a judge to rule on the outstanding issues. In hotly contested and/or intrinsically complicated cases, judicial resolution may be the best option. For those time-sensitive summer vacation issues, however, filing a motion with the court (which generally requires a minimum turnaround time of 24 days) is often impractical.
In many cases, regardless of the timing, it is best to maintain control over the situation by attempting to reach an agreement with your ex about summer plans for the children, rather than leave the decision up to a court, which often gains only a limited understanding of the issues presented via a motion and oral argument. So, the first step may be to reach out to the other parent and try to have a conversation about how to divide summer time and expenses for the children. Having a civil discussion with an ex-spouse or partner is often the most efficient and cost-effective way to address summer parenting time. If you find yourself needing to communicate with your ex in regard to summer custody and parenting time, here are a few suggestions to help make for a productive conversation:
Communicate – often and early: Talk to the other parent about your plans for the children during the summer. If you are making plans for the children in advance, do not wait. The sooner you can discuss your summer plans the better, in order to avoid conflicting vacation dates.
Be specific: Don’t expect your ex to simply agree to your intended plans for the children without details. Provide specifics about your travel plans, including dates, destinations, travel and lodging accommodations, and pertinent contact information.
Be civil: Regardless of any issues that may exist between you and the other parent, you should both want the best for your children. Playing the blame game and/or name calling is generally unproductive and often only encourages one party to shut down and/or apply to the court.
Focus on the BIC: No matter what your plans for the summer may be, the focus should remain on what plans are best for the children. Schedule changes can be difficult for children, especially young children, during the summer. These difficulties are only exacerbated when parents cannot amicably resolve the details of the summer schedule. Keep the plethora of emotions experienced by your children in mind, and elevate your children’s needs above all else. For some, this may require consideration of other family members and friends; particularly for adolescents, being able to spend time with friends, attend camps and engage in other activities is an important part of the summer. Your children should not miss out on fun an engaging summer time activities simply because you and your ex cannot agree.