Ahh, summer vacation. No more homework, studying or tests. A child’s favorite time of year. Parents will oftentimes have their hands full during the summer months, and they can find it difficult to schedule day trips, vacations, summer camp or just arrange steady child care for a few months. Divorced spouses who are co-parenting their children may face additional challenges during the summer season, but with some carefully planning and execution, they can avoid some of the common co-parenting pitfalls.
If either of the parents’ wishes to take their child on an out-of-town trip during the summer, they need to inform their former spouse of their itinerary in advance. Typically, a few months will be sufficient. Depending on their specific child custody or divorce agreements, co-parents will have to discuss and agree on travel dates, and sometimes even destinations, prior to a vacation being booked. This tactic can be incredibly beneficial because both parents will be able to coordinate their desired vacation plans, and avoid the hassle conflicts.
Some parents choose to send their children to summer camp. These camps can be day camps, or ones where the child stays overnight for an extended period of time. Some judges will order that co-parents split the costs of summer camp, which is great for children who live in single income households, because they might not be able to attend camp otherwise. Just as with travel planning, both parents need to agree on the specifics, i.e. what kind of camp to send their child to (sports related, academic, etc.), as well as duration (daily, overnight, one week or more), location (out of state or local YMCA), and price. Doing so will alleviate stress and ensure that there are no disagreements once the child is enrolled.
Stipulations of some custody and visitation agreements state that the child or children will spend a majority of their summer recess with the non-custodial parent. This kind of stipulation is primarily found in agreements when one parent lives out of state or in another country. Having to spend a couple of months living in a different household in a different city, state, or country with people the child may not know well can be stir up feelings of anxiety in the child. To help combat this, cross-country or transcontinental co-parents should take measures to help their child become more comfortable with the concept before their summer begins. Scheduling Skype or FaceTime sessions between the non-custodial parent and the child is important to help establish a comfortable relationship between the two, especially with younger children. The non-custodial parent can also send photos of their home, and pictures of the people the child will be spending time with (for instance, a new partner or step-siblings). Additionally, it is important to remember that the custodial parent may feel lonely or sad because their child is away for such a long period of time. Encouraging the child to send postcards or letters to their other parent is a great way to take your former spouse’s feelings into consideration.
As stressed as co-parents may feel during the summer to fill their child’s vacation with activities and that it remains drama free (remember: it’s in a child’s best interest if their parents get along), they should really make an effort to not overschedule their child. Too much change in routine can aggravate children of divorce, which can lead to tantrums, lashing out, and the burden of unnecessary stress. Let kids be kids, and allow them to have the freedom to choose how their day goes. Slumber parties and movie marathons with friends on rainy days? Sure! Playing outside and collecting fireflies? Why not?!
Co-parenting during the summer shouldn’t be that much different than co-parenting during the holidays or throughout the rest of the year, it just takes a little more planning and cooperation. The core issue at the heart of co-parenting is getting along with your former spouse. Being friendly and civil, especially in front of the children, as well as being flexible with last minute schedule changes, will help to ensure that exes make their kid’s summer the best that it possibly can be.