Summer a Hot Time for Child Custody Issues

Back when it was cold we talked about child custody issues during the December holidays. While the logistics of sharing the kids over three weeks around Christmas and New Years might seem easy enough, figuring out the split for 10 – 12 weeks over the summer is another beast entirely.

We generally see a more stable custody plan during the school year, with the rationale being, of course, that the consistency is better for the children while school is in session. In contrast, during the summer we see longer periods of time when the children are away from the custodial parent. If one parent is in another state, the children can even spend the entire summer with the relocated parent.

But here’s the key point: When thinking and planning for the summer, it’s very important that parents work together to plan out their schedules well in advance of the end of school. While last minute vacations and spontaneous excursions might have been an option pre-divorce, they’re not going to work as well when custody is shared.

Parents learn as their kids get older that most summer camps require registration early in the year, some as early as January. The more competitive camps might be even earlier, and some some camps offer discounts if you book in December.

By doing that planning early in the year, parents will avoid last minute problems and unexpected conflicts.

Most custody agreements include language that gives the non-custodial parent an opportunity to schedule several weeks during the summer uninterrupted by visitation by the other party. That allows for longer, extended vacations. The goal should be for both children and parents to have a restful, enjoyable summer, not one filled with stress and anger.

A good custody agreement will be specific about how summer custody differs from the rest of the year. In fact, summer will usually have its own section that spells out all the details, down to a specific deadline when parents should meet or agree on the summer schedule. While the period right after the divorce might not have parents working smoothly together, that will improve as time goes on.

There are as many different custody arrangements as you can imagine.

Option 1: Traditional Summer – Each parent takes two or three full weeks during the summer, and the school year schedule is in effect the remaining summer weeks.
Option 2: Half and Half – Parents split the summer evenly, either weekly or, if a parent has relocated, perhaps four weeks for one and then four weeks with the other parent.
Option 3: The Usual Routine – Keep the same schedule as during the school year.
Option 4: Creative Solutions – Some agreements detail that parents alternate which gets the first week or weeks with their kids each summer by year.

One situation where problems arise is when one parent doesn’t specifically pick their summer vacation, which can overlap other planned activities when that parent suddenly decides to take their child on a last-minute excursion. Oftentimes the other parent has already made plans (which can double as childcare) to cover that time. Clear agreements often protect the other parent from this lack of planning.

There’s no one “right” approach to handling summer custody, but it really helps if the parents can agree on a united front. Trying one approach and finding it doesn’t work isn’t a failure, just a sign to keep trying other options. Eventually, working together, you will find an approach that works for your situation.

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