Summer and Custody: How to Avoid Conflicts

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Most parenting plans have specific provisions for summer, but that alone does not eliminate scheduling problems. In this post, we will cover summer custody basics and offer some tips to reduce or even eliminate conflicts so everyone can enjoy the summer.

Typically, every parenting plan gives each parent a block of time during the summer with exclusive physical custody of the children, ideally so that each parent can plan trips or other special activities. To minimize conflict and encourage planning ahead, these parenting plans usually require each parent to notify the other of their week or weeks of summer custody far in advance, often as early as February. In this way, both parents can plan their summer schedules out as well as decide on extracurricular activities for the kids outside of designated vacation time.

Seems simple, right? How could problems possibly arise?

First, depending on the age of the child, parents may face the choice of sending a child to his or her preferred camp versus time with the other parent, whether on vacation or otherwise. Because summer tends to be only ten weeks between the end of school and the beginning of the next school year, scheduling a camp could conflict with when one parent has planned a vacation, which can be challenging given work schedules, air fares and bookings. Losing four weeks of camp for one week of vacation could cause resentment between parent and child. Ideally, the two parents should work together to see if camp and vacation could both be accommodated. But if not, and the parenting plan gives preference to the vacation time, both parents should support that decision rather than use it as a wedge to pull the child into a “favorite parent” conflict. The idea of summer custody is to offer each parent meaningful chunks of time to spend quality time together with children; it is not designed to do whatever the child wants or whatever one parent wants. If the parties share joint legal custody, the issue of camp is a decision that must be made together, and to avoid conflict honoring each parent’s time in the summer will lead to the best compromises. If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent should take particular care to honor the time for the other parent in the summer, as the failure to do so could be the basis for a motion to modify should that parent use that decision making power to take away summer vacation from the other parent.

Second, families with several children of different ages may find scheduling absolutely impossible, as one child has a camp in the first few weeks, another has a camp the last few weeks, and a third has one that overlaps both. Rather than leave one or more children without a camp and feeling left out or hurt, parents should think creatively and perhaps plan two shorter trips with only some of the children at one time. Again, working cooperatively to schedule thinking of everyone’s interests rather than only one person’s interests will be the best strategy. No parenting plan can accommodate all of these unexpected changes, so it falls to the parents to either work together or end up in court.

Third, some parents have custody plans designed specifically for out of state custody, so that the out of town parent gets all of the summer with the children. This has the potential for creating two major problems: no vacation time with the in-state parent, and possibly no camps for the children. The paucity of time given to the out of state parent during the school year makes the summer time with the out of state parent of great importance. But if the parents can coordinate and communicate, it may be possible to schedule a vacation or camp and still assure full time with the out of state parent.

Finally, both parents have to grapple with the issue of transportation – who will be responsible both in terms of getting from one place to another and also the cost. It is likely that the parenting plan addresses this, but if parents are looking for a compromise in regard to changes, picking up some of the travel might be a way to do it.

If you have questions about summer custody, contact us – we can help.