- If a divorcing couple has a settlement agreement, they can use it to determine who has the children when during the summer.
- It's best for divorcing parents to do everything they can to avoid conflict in front of the kids and to always put their needs first.
- Children should have access to both parents, so vacations and holiday weekend times may need to alternate.
The unofficial start to summer is behind us, the temperature is warming up and the children are in their last weeks of school—if they aren’t out already.
And 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 cognizant 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're able to 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, including who will have the children, when and where pick-up and drop-off will occur, and the sharing of 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 the summer plans so that everyone can make arrangements and the children are not left wondering how they will be spending the summer. Likely, their friends are already talking about their plans and your children should be able to do the same.
Keep in mind that it is reasonable for you to each have two weeks of consistent time that you can share with your children for a vacation, staycation, or whatever works for you and your family. And it is reasonable to alternate the long weekends of 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, for example, both may agree that the children will spend time with their grandparents during one of the vacation weeks. There are countless ways to make these case-by-case arrangements. The critical part is that both parents agree that the children are as happy with it as possible and that they have it in writing, preferably a legally sound agreement, in the event that there is an unexpected change in point of view.
How are the children responding?
No matter how carefully you plan your summer arrangements, you might still face challenges regarding how children 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, and 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.
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.