Vacationing with the Kids: Are You (Really) Ready for Summer?
With summer time right around the corner, many divorced and separated parents have questions about what summer parenting time (does the school year parenting time schedule change or stay the same?), vacations with the children (who gets to take the children on vacation and when?), and summer camp for the children (who enrolls and pays for summer camp or daycare?). Generally, the answer to all of these questions is: “It depends.” Because the summer time can bring about changes in the schedules of children and parents alike, it is essential to make sure that you and your ex are on the same page about the children’s summer schedule.
If you are a parent with questions about how your parenting time schedule may be impacted by the upcoming summer, the logical starting point is your marital settlement agreement or court order. In many cases, a well-crafted settlement agreement or order will address with specificity the issues of summer parenting time, vacations, camp and the like. You and your ex may have agreed to keep the summer parenting time schedule the same as the school year schedule, perhaps with exceptions for summer holidays (Fourth of July, Labor Day, etc.), birthdays and vacations. Or, you and your ex may have agreed to modify the school year parenting time schedule to provide for a more equal (i.e., shared) custody and parenting time schedule, as is common in many cases. Such a schedule or order should also address the division of costs for summer camps (which is often a shared expense between the parties) and other summer activities.
If there is no agreement between parents about the children’s summer schedule, there is still time to address these issues before summer begins. In that case, there are essentially two options. The first is to pick up the phone, or compose a letter, email or even text message, and have a conversation with the other parent about the summer schedule. If you can elevate the children’s best interests above all else, you will (hopefully) be able to have a civil discussion with your ex about your respective time with, and plans for, the children this summer. To that end, here are a few tips to help you work through these issues with the other parent:
- Keep one another informed: Communicate with the other parent and keep him or her apprised of your plans for the summer. If you know in April that you want to take your children on vacation in August, don’t wait to discuss this with the other parent. Have a candid conversation about your trip, providing the location, dates, travel/lodging accommodations, and any other relevant information. The sooner you can discuss your summer plans, the better.
- Remember to put the children’s interests first: All too often, ‘parenting time’ becomes more about the ‘parent’s time,’ rather than focusing on what arrangement is best for the children. Schedule changes can be difficult for children during the summer and having parents who cannot work out the details of the summer schedule can exacerbate a child’s feelings of stress and anxiety. Keep the myriad of emotions experienced by your children in mind during your discussions with the other parent.
- Consider external factors: Many children want to spend time with their friends, attend camps and engage in different activities during the summer months. Don’t cause your child to miss out on fun summer time events just because you and your ex could not reach an agreement as to how their time should be spent.
- Be civil in your communications: No matter what your differences with your ex may be, you want the best for your children. Name calling and pointing the finger at one another will not help you resolve the summer time issues, and will not help you if those communications are used as evidence in court. On that note…
If you cannot resolve the summer parenting time issues with the other parent directly, you could pursue an amicable resolution through counsel, and/or through mediation. If an amicable resolution cannot be reached under any circumstances, however, the alternative is to file an application with the court and ask a judge to make a decision on these issues for you. While it is in many cases best to resolve summer parenting time and related issues on your own terms as parents, without involvement of the court, sometimes these issues are simply too complex or emotionally-charged. If that is the case, you would be best served by filing an application with the Court as soon as possible, well in advance of any planned vacations, camps, or summer holidays.