The school year has come to an end in Florida. As kids, we looked forward to carefree fun and were excited about out-of-school activities such as camps, road trips, and spending more time with friends. It was a time to enjoy warmer weather and longer sunlit days. For many parents, summer is the most demanding season of the year, and when it comes to divorced partners, it is a heightened time of stress having to juggle multiple schedules, separate households, and parental supervision while navigating emotions surrounding a fractured relationship.
Whether you are recently separated or long-time divorced, some challenges coincide with balancing work, childcare, and your kid’s summer activities. Before summer is in full swing, it is important to have a summer co-parenting plan in place. A summer time-sharing agreement clearly outlines each parent’s exact times, days, and financial responsibilities until school starts again. Without the constraints of a school schedule, parents can design a plan that works best for them, including unique summer time blocks such as rotating weeks when one parent has full responsibility for one or two weeks at a time. Or divide the summer in half, giving one parent time to take a trip or visit with extended family who may not live locally. Some decide to alternate summers, when one parent is responsible for the child the entire summer one year and the other parent the next, giving each parent consecutive days and months with their child. This could also be beneficial if one parent lives out of state or a distance from their primary residence to help cut costs and travel time. The plan can also include “blackout” dates that are non-negotiable protected dates in the case of pre-planned trips or events. The great thing about agreeing to a schedule before the summer is that it will allow for pre-planning, and both parties will be in full agreement that the schedule will work for everyone involved.
Another key element to a successful summer co-parenting plan is communicating about the cost of activities and childcare. As a part of the final divorce decree, financial obligations for the care of minors should have already been decided, but the cost of summer activities and new opportunities may change as children get older and their interests and relationships expand. Expenses related to summertime activities should be shared and paid by both parents, and as a rule of thumb, one parent should not sign the child up for an expensive camp and expect the other parent to automatically pay half without checking with them first. In addition to the camp or session fees, the budget should include the gear associated with the activities, from tennis shoes to sunscreen; parents should agree on what is needed and how the costs should be split. A budget will also clearly delineate between spousal support, division of activity costs that go beyond the agreement, and gifts to the child that are a part of the joys of parenting.
The most important thing for summer planning, like a divorce or custody agreement, is always keeping the child’s best interest in mind. Communication with your ex is just as important as communicating with your child. Even though a less structured schedule has its challenges, one of the great things about summer is the spontaneous events that come up – new friends, family visits, and special events – so communication and flexibility will help you minimize the added stress and allow you to enjoy all the summertime fun. If you and your ex have trouble communicating and agreeing on a summer plan, ask your family attorney about using a mediator to help address these summertime issues. Sometimes a little help goes a long way, and it will definitely keep you from getting burned this summer.