If you’re a newly separated parent or heading in that direction, you may have yet to experience the process of establishing summer custody arrangements for your children. Whereas the school year schedule can be fairly rigid and routine, the summer calendar can appear as uncharted territory. This change in season can present opportunities for confrontation, with both parents having competing plans or ideas about the children’s summer break. Be proactive and consider how to make the summertime livin’ easy for you, your co-parent, and your children.
Summer custody challenges
That annual beach trip to OBX? Watching fireworks at a grandparent’s house for July 4th? Summer sports camps for four weeks? While these were all plans you made for your family when it was an intact unit, you are no longer functioning this way.
Here are some strategies for anticipating summer custody challenges and working successfully through them:
- Start early – Anticipate the opportunities coming up in the summer and start communicating them with your co-parent and, perhaps, your attorney well in advance, giving you time to resolve discrepancies and work your way through the court system, if needed.
- Be fair and appropriate – If you ask for a two-week trip with your children, your ex will likely be entitled to that too; what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
- Protect traditions and make new ones – If summer typically involves a special day or event for your family, seek to honor past traditions. This is particularly important if those traditions bring great joy to your children, whether it benefits you or your spouse. Also, be willing to create new traditions and make new memories.
- Seek court intervention – Even if you and your co-parent have the most amicable relationship, things can go sideways quickly; once you work out your summer custody agreement, be sure to memorialize it appropriately. If you reach an impasse with your co-parent, seek court intervention to resolve the issues presented by summertime.
Summer flexibility and provisions
Where the school year requires meticulous scheduling, summer can offer opportunities for expanded custodial time, like having your children for multiple weeks or extended time periods. Parents can avoid frequent shuffling and exchanges, embracing the freedom and flexibility of a school-free calendar. It is an opportunity to explore alternate arrangements with your children. Perhaps the primary physical custodian is flipped, and the party that typically has the children the majority of the time only exercises partial physical custody during the summer. Or perhaps you each opt for an entire month, of course, noting any important blackout dates for camps or special holidays (depending on the standard holiday provisions schedule or whatever else you have arranged). Of course, you can choose to keep a consistent schedule similar to the school year exchanges while filling your days with camps and other family-focused activities.
You should also consider whether or not flexibility works based on your co-parent’s living situation, the geographical location of each parent’s home, and any red flags or special concerns that you may have. Be sure to also discuss any travel plans, especially international travel, requiring a passport. Your summer custody agreement can provide where travel is permitted to occur and address the parameters within which that travel may occur.
Using summer as make-up time or for making change
Perhaps you or your former partner relocated a reasonable distance away from your children amidst the divorce. If one parent has primary custody, the other may be looking for summer to enjoy more substantial time with your children, where the geographical limitations prevent that from occurring during the school year. While this may at first seem unfair, take a step back and try to look at the year in totality. See the summer as an opportunity to complement the school year schedule and provide opportunities to connect with your children where one of you was less able to before.
Also, summer can be a great time to consider what did and did not go well during the school year and propose changes to the schedule. Perhaps you want to step in and coach your child’s sports team. Maybe the year at school didn’t go well, and it’s time to consider new schooling options. Use the time and space of summer to reflect on your children’s experience and seek to make life better and more agreeable for them primarily, as well as yourself.
Communication, communication, communication
Regardless of how you spend your summer, know that the first summer as a multi-household family is often the hardest, as you now function as separate family units versus one. While “mom” may have scheduled all the summer camps and booked the big family vacation, these things must be discussed in advance, documented, and agreed upon by the parties. A communication breakdown is often at the root of any custody-related issue, and summertime is not immune to those issues. Communicate early and communicate often.
Sports tournaments, holidays, and annual extended family get-togethers or vacations often take place in summer – how do these fit into or impact your custody arrangement? Your decisions should be firmly entrenched in what is best for your child or children. Working with your ex may be challenging. Working with your family attorney to determine the best approach to your summer-related issues and to devise a summer custody schedule that honors your children’s needs and best interest is the best way to overcome those challenges.