During the school year, school schedules and activities help dictate your child’s visitation schedule. But when the school bell rings on the last day of school, your once predictable visitation schedule often evaporates. And unless you and your co-parent have a cooperative, amiable relationship, the summer months can be a stressful season spent haggling over visitation days or weeks, spoiling the summer months for both your children and you.
Here are some helpful tips to help you navigate summer break visitation.
Update your parenting plan
If your current parenting plan doesn’t spell out how to handle summer break visitations (or simply no longer works for you, your co-parent, or your children), it’s probably time to have your attorney help you draw up a new parenting plan. The needs or interests of your children likely have changed as they’ve grown older. Or maybe the job situation for either you or your co-parent could has changed, or one of you has moved away, making it difficult to maintain your parenting plan during the school year, let alone the summer months. To be rigidly held to an outdated parenting agreement that doesn’t address the summer months or your family’s changed situation causes a lot of unnecessary stress for everyone.
Your attorney can help you amend your parenting agreement to suit the current needs of both your children and you or your co-parent. Be sure to revisit the agreement over the years as your children or your situation changes. Especially if the relationship between you and your co-parent is fragile or fraught with tension, having a legal document that spells out how to handle the summer months will ease the stress so that everyone can breathe a little easier.
While every parenting plan is different, most spell out only how much time the children spend with each parent; they don’t specify the exact weeks. If this is your situation, you and your co-parent should start planning for the summer months as early in the year as possible. Making two sets of vacation plans, family reunions, and the kids’ summer camp weeks fit into one summer season could take some time. In addition, many camps and some vacation trips require advance booking. The earlier you start talking about summer visitation, the more time you and your co-parent have to discuss your wishes and to work out a compromise if you cannot agree.
No matter how you feel about your co-parent, when it comes time for your children to stay with him or her, be positive and encouraging. Your child needs a healthy relationship with both of her parents. Encourage her to have a great time; she may feel guilty about leaving you for the other parent’s house if she thinks you are sad or upset about it. If she is struggling with being away from you, let her know that you’re only a phone call, text, or video call away. Conversely, if you are the parent being visited, ensure that she knows you will give her the opportunity to contact the other parent.
If you are the parent being visited and your child seems unhappy to be with you, be patient and don’t take it personally. Children, especially younger ones, often need transition time to adjust to the different routine and home. Offering your unconditional love and understanding (instead of getting upset with your child) will often shorten the time it takes him to adjust.
If part of your visitation includes a trip away, be considerate of your co-parent and respect his or her right to know where your child will be and when. Provide your co-parent with a specific itinerary and let them know how to contact your child. When your co-parent knows the logistics of the trip, he or she will not only feel more comfortable but will likely be more supportive and cooperative.
If you need help drawing up a fair, comprehensive parenting plan, or if you need to amend your existing plan, contact Christine M. Howard Law.