Recently Divorced? Put Together a Summer Custody Plan
Spring has sprung, the temperature is warming up and children are heading into the last few months of school.
While the anticipation of summer brings some people great joy, it might also stir other emotions such as sadness, loneliness, and feelings of anxiety, especially if this year is going to be different.
If you have recently gone through, or are going through, a divorce, particularly if there are children involved, you might already be well aware of how your divorce will change summer plans for you and your family this year.
Issues of custody can become a significant source of pressure, particularly in a recently established separation or divorce, so, ideally, you should sort this out before the summer is fully underway.
Who has the children, and when?
If you are already divorced and have a settlement agreement, refer to that document if you have any questions regarding who will have the children when, and for how long.
In my legal practice, I set out very specific provisions regarding summer plans. This includes who will have the children, and when and where pick-up and drop-off will occur. It’s important to also keep in mind the importance of sharing itineraries if the children are traveling with a parent.
Typically, there are set amounts of vacation time scheduled for each parent. A well-written settlement will also include the expenses that might be expected over the summer, from camps to additional childcare.
If your agreement does not contain this level of detail, or if you are separated without any paperwork as of yet, it would be wise to reach out to your former/to-be ex-spouse and discuss summer plans so that everyone can make arrangements and the children are not left wondering how they will be spending the summer. Their friends are likely already talking about their plans and your children should be able to do the same.
Consider that it is entirely reasonable for each parent to have two weeks of consistent time to share with the children for a vacation, staycation, or whatever works for you and your family. These weeks can be consecutive or non-consecutive. It is also common to alternate the long weekends over the summer: Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day.
That said, many couples can be more flexible. One parent might have more long weekends than the other. Or perhaps both parents agree that the children will spend time with their grandparents during one of the vacation weeks or at camp or summer programs during the majority of the summer.
There are countless ways to make these case-by-case arrangements. However, there are two critical components to any summer custody plan.
Primarily, ensure that both parents agree to focus on making the children as happy with the plan as possible. Next, remember to have the plan in writing, preferably a legally sound agreement, in the event that there is an unexpected change in point of view.
Does all of this scheduling and communication around it sound overwhelming? There is an app for that. Take a look at my post on custody apps that can help.
How are the children responding?
No matter how carefully you plan your summer arrangements, you might still face challenges. It’s difficult to predict how children will respond to the first few summers when their parents are living in different homes.
I work with many therapists as a part of my practice. Their consistent advice is to do everything you can to avoid conflict in front of your children, to not speak ill of that parent in front of your children, and, whenever necessary, to do everything you can to put your children’s needs ahead of your own.
This may mean not having your children at your family’s traditional July 4th gathering. Or it may even mean spending weeks without seeing your children at all so that your spouse can take them on a vacation.
Of course, this can be gut-wrenching. But it is important to remember that your ex-spouse is still your child’s parent, and in order to be happy and healthy, children should have access to both parents. Further, each of you will be building new traditions with your children in your new family unit, which might be fun and exciting for all of you.
Most of all, it is critical to remember to protect your emotional well-being and the emotional health of your children.
Do your best to enjoy the summer and ensure that your children do as well, particularly as you proceed through your divorce.
Note: These opinions should not substitute for a diagnosis or as legal or mental health advice, as each case is unique. If you are facing a similar situation, it is critical to contact a family law attorney in your area as soon as possible.