By Rebecca Simpson, Partner
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP
Another school year has nearly come to a close, and kids are eager for the fun and freedom of summer.
For parents, however, balancing work, camps, childcare and vacation can prove complicated and stressful. These complications and stresses weigh particularly heavy upon parents who are separated or divorced. Coordinating schedules can create tension and conflict, making summer planning an enormous challenge.
While every family situation is unique, and no simple solutions exist to resolve all of the complications that can accompany raising children in separate homes, these “Six Rules of Summer” offer guidance regarding issues that commonly arise during summer co-parenting.
#1. Read Your Decree
Many decrees contain deadlines regarding notice for summer plans. Look for these notice provisions and add them to your calendar.
Also, pay attention to the July 4 holiday. If you follow the “Warren County Family Court Guidelines” used by Warren County courts, July 4 is alternated each year. However, the guidelines provide that “holiday time” takes precedence over “vacation time.” If your vacation includes July 4, be certain it is your year to celebrate July 4th with your child or children.
Finally, review your decree regarding summer financial obligations. Unless otherwise specified in the decree, child support payments typically continue in the summer even though children may spend more time with their non-residential parent during summer. Additionally, camps, childcare, and vacations can be expensive. Determine what your decree requires regarding payment of summer expenses.
#2. Focus on Your Child or Children
There is no right or wrong schedule. The key is to develop a plan that best meets your child’s needs.
Most co-parenting schedules have a summer schedule different from the routine followed during the school year. Our local guidelines carve out blocks of time for parents. These guidelines are located at http://courts.ky.gov/Local_Rules_of_Practice/C8FAMILYRULES.pdf
However, not all parents follow the local Guidelines. For example, some parents alternate weeks with the child or children during summer. In other cases, kids spend the majority of summer with the parent who isn’t the primary residential parent. Other parents don’t modify their schedule during summer, but maintain the same routine year-round.
When it comes to scheduling, focus on the needs of your child. Summer is often a time when kids want to spend time friends and extended family members. If this holds true for your family, try to incorporate this into your parenting plan. Also, while activities such as camps and vacations are great, do not overwhelm children with too many activities. The schedule should allow for periods of down time and give kids their own space and time to recharge.
#3. Be flexible
Often, changes occur after the decree is entered that impact the summer schedule. For instance, summer is filled with parties, weddings, reunions and other celebrations, but the dates may not conform to the decree. Also, an employment change may affect a parent’s ability to stay home during the summer or to take vacations. Further, as children grow, their interests and needs change. Schedules should be modified to meet their best interests. Parents can deviate from the schedule outlined in their decree if both parents agree. When this happens, documenting the change in writing will help avoid future conflicts.
#4 Communication is Key
Children should not be a parent’s messenger. Email, texting, online calendars and phone apps can make communicating more efficient and can minimize misunderstandings.
Parents should communicate about summer plans early to avoid scheduling conflicts. Once a plan is developed, creating a written calendar to post in both households will help both parents know what to expect and look forward to fun plans ahead.
Finally, try to stay positive for the sake of your child. Regardless of your feelings toward the other parent, always be respectful when communicating. Avoid negative comments about the other parent. Don’t try to compete with the other parent or create situations where children must take sides. If your child misses the other parent, don’t take it personally. Be supportive of your child’s relationship with the other parent, as children should not feel guilty for missing either parent.
#5 Travel Considerations
Parents should provide each other with details pertaining to travel with the child such as the travel dates, destination and contact information. When traveling abroad, parental cooperation is especially important. To obtain a passport for a child under 16, consent of both parents is required if the parents have joint custody. If a parent has sole custody, proper proof of sole custody is required. Children under 18 can be enrolled in the U.S. Department of State’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program. When a passport application is submitted for a child enrolled in the program, authorities confirm that parental consent has been provided.
#6 Think Ahead
It’s never too early to plan ahead. Check the upcoming school calendar to determine when the next school year begins. Parents with joint custody need to communicate regarding who is responsible for school enrollment, as well as who will get vaccinations, physicals, vision exams, hearing tests and dental exams often required for school. Regardless of who completes the school and medical paperwork, both parents should be listed on all important documents.
The fresh smell of cut grass, the jingle of an approaching ice cream truck and the glow of fireflies at twilight all make this time of year magical for children. Following the Six Rules of Summer can help each summer become the memories of a wondrous childhood.
About the Author
Rebecca Simpson is a Partner with English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP, where she handles family law and estate matters. Rebecca and her husband Jamie reside in Bowling Green where they are raising their two daughters. Contact Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org or (270) 781-6500.
Note: This material may only be re-published with the permission of the author and must give credit to the author.