Summer Visitation Strategies
Sharing parenting time can be a challenge even during the more structured school year. Some parents work well together to adapt to scheduling conflict and adjust, while others rely on a strict schedule to keep things running smoothly. When summer rolls around, coordinating can be even tougher. Family vacations, visits to relatives, and kids’ activities may all require advance planning and adjustment.
These tips will help you navigate the sometimes-tricky waters of summertime parenting plans and adaptations.
- Start with your existing order. Whatever your current parenting plan says dictates your summer visitation schedule, unless both parents agree to deviate, or one goes back to court and secures a modification. But some parenting plans are more specific than others. Yours may continue the same schedule you have during the school year, or it may give a large block of time to the parent the kids do not usually live with. Special summer scheduling may be date-specific or may be along the lines of “a consecutive period of 30 days as agreed by the parties.” Before you make any plans, know what your existing order dictates.
- Plan ahead and coordinate. Summer sports may conflict with travel plans, camp, summer school (and so on). Even when a family is under a single roof, juggling summertime commitments can be challenging. Coordinating the schedules of two households will likely add to the difficulty. So, don’t wait until the last minute to let your co-parent know you’d like to take the kids to visit your parents in Texas for a week, and don’t sign up for activities or lock down travel plans that would alter your existing schedule before you have an agreement in place.
- Try to be accommodating. You probably have some special summer plans with the kids--or plans you’d like to make. Their other parent probably does, too. It’s good for the kids to spend quality time with both parents and your co-parent is more likely to go along with your plans if you go along with his or hers. In other words, say no or insist on sticking to the court order if you have a reason, but not just because you can.
- Consider what the kids want. While children certainly do not get to dictate the visitation schedule, it’s important for parents to consider the impact plans will have on them. That may mean anything from recognizing that a planned trip may be too long and too much time away for a very young child accustomed to spending most time with the other parent to factoring in activities that are of high importance to the child. The goal should always be to foster healthy relationships between the kids and both parents.
- Make sure any agreements are clear and explicit. Most parenting plans leave room for the parents to make changes, as necessary. Illness, business trips, kids’ activities and other conflicts are bound to arise from time to time. Too often, those adjustments made through a quick phone call or a message passed through the child come back to haunt parents. When you and your ex make alternate arrangements, try to use email or some other form of communication that creates a record. And, wrap up the discussion with a clear, simple statement of the agreement, such as “So, we’re agreed I’ll have the kids from August 1-9 for the Texas trip and then you’ll take them for the following week, right?” And, get confirmation.
Think beyond scheduling. While your main concern for summer adjustments may be making sure you have the kids for a family trip or that their soccer schedule isn’t interrupted, remember that scheduling changes may trigger other issues as well. For example, a child who regularly travels back and forth between parents during the school year may not often be in contact with the other during the “off” time. But, if one parent has the kids for a 30 or 60 day stretch during the summer, that may need to change. Parents may also need to make more of an effort to share information about things like dates for sporting events, performances, and other activities both parents might normally attend. In short, think about how you’ll keep the lines of communication open: between parents, between each parent and the kids, and between kids and half-siblings they may see less of over the summer.
While the tips above are tailored to summertime, the concepts are the same when unusual times or circumstances arise throughout the year, whether that means one parent wanting to take the kids on a spring break trip or needing to work together to accommodate your middle schooler’s play practices.
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