When it comes to summer break, kids immediately get excited about the activities, vacations, time with friends, less early mornings, and more fun. However, for kids entering their first summer with separated parents, these sunshine-filled months can be more stressful than exciting.
“Things like summer break are important to kids in ways that parents don’t think about,” licensed clinical and forensic psychologist Michael Wilbourn, Psy. D said. “As such, kids need a summer parenting schedule that normalizes their life and simplifies things.”
While we understand it’s a difficult time for you, it’s important to take as much stress off your child as possible. Try to keep their schedule relatively similar where you can and adjust where you must. Always communicate with them if age appropriate—don’t leave them guessing! Help your kid have a fun summer, even if you aren’t feeling the most spirited yourself.
Are you uncertain about how to create a parenting plan? When it comes to child custody plans or parenting plans, there are two important factors involved: parenting time and the allocation of decision-making responsibilities.
Parenting time schedules determine how much time the child involved will spend with either parent. This includes splitting time between major holidays, vacations, extracurricular activities, and any other day-to-day occurrences that affect the child. A good parenting time schedule also takes into account details such as travel time, pick-up and drop-off times, as well as meeting locations.
The decision-making aspect of a parenting plan dictates which parent will be in charge of making certain decisions pertaining to the child’s life. These decisions can range from which extracurricular activities the child will be involved in, to which doctor the child will see.
Parents who keep their children top-of-mind while creating a parenting plan will ultimately come up with a plan that is fair for both parents and puts the best interest of the child first. As your children get older, especially in their teenage years, it’s important to make sure they are able to maintain a connection to their life and friends. These social relationships are critical to their development and should be taken into consideration when dividing up parenting time.
“Parents should do their best to live close to each other,” family law attorney and mediator Rachel L. Baumel said. According to Baumel, children are put in difficult positions when they can’t be on a consistent activity schedule, and with the same friend group growing up.
Wilbourn echoed the sentiment and explained that once the kids are in their later teens and have their own friends, schedules, sports, work, and more, parents should create a plan to fit their kid’s schedule best. “That is one thing the parent fails at the most,” he said.
There are no “one-size-fits-all” parenting plans. Each child is unique and requires a plan created just for them. “Families are not like cookie cutters,” forensic investigator for custody matters Carol Reinert, MA LPC said. “While I have guidelines that I start with, there is no rule that applies to all families or all children.” She explained that children, even in the same family, might have different needs than their siblings.
Creating the best parenting time schedule for yourself and your former spouse is tricky, especially during the summer months. The more flexible you can be with the schedule, the better.
“First and foremost, don’t fight with the other parent over the schedule or last-minute changes,” Wilbourn said. “That creates the most stress for kids and messes up their summer.”
Baumel explained the importance of being as kind as you can with the other parent to help ease stress. “Try to be thoughtful and kind in working with the other parent, and typically the more thoughtful and kind they will be in return,” she said.
Since you know your child and their needs better than anyone else, it’s best to come up with a summer schedule together, rather than getting the court involved. A parenting plan created jointly between both parents is more likely to be successful and followed than one mandated by a judge.
If you and your former spouse are unable to come to an agreement on a summer parenting plan, the court may assign a third-party Child and Family Investor (CFI) or a Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE) to recommend a parenting time schedule based on the below criteria, as well as what is in the best interest of the child. These criteria can also be used to help you and your former spouse create a summer parenting plan.
“It’s important to remind parents that the kids didn’t vote for the divorce or conflict,” Wilbourn said. He explained that if the parents continue to have a power struggle, they will ruin these special times for their kids.
While you and your former spouse may be clear on the plan, it’s equally important for your kid to be aware. Kids can be surprisingly basic when it comes to their needs and want to know answers to questions like, “Where am I sleeping?” or “Where am I eating?” They will also feel much more comfortable if their questions are answered quickly. Make it clear where they will be staying and what days, when and where they will eat, how they will get to and from different activities, and more.
“The kids need to be told the plan if they are age appropriate,” Reinert said. “They need to be brought into the discussion.” She even suggested letting the child explain what they are looking for in the summer if they are old enough and considering their opinions, even if you’re not able to fully implement them.
If the children are younger, they don’t need to be told too many details, and the plan can be revolved around the parents’ schedules. Reinert suggested color-coded calendars to her clients, with the days marked in different colors for each parent. This calendar is easy for a younger child to follow. “The calendars can help them get into the rhythm of it,” she said.
Summer break means ample time for fun, exploration, and continued education for your child. You will most likely want to enroll your child in summer activities or make plans to visit local attractions throughout Colorado.
For camps and childcare, make sure to communicate who will be enrolling your child and who will be covering costs, whether you will do it together or separately. It’s also important to communicate travel arrangements, designating specific locations and times. The more details accounted for in your parenting plan, the less room for disagreement.
Always remember to consult your former spouse before enrolling your child in summer activities that may interfere with their parenting time. Even if you’ve been granted decision-making authority, you should be fair and respectful of the other parent’s visitation rights if a specific camp or activity occurs while the child is living under their roof.
If you’ve never been a planner, planning activities to do with your kid can be somewhat daunting. Below are some local Denver and Colorado Springs ideas to help you get started.
Remember to plan your vacation time in advance, if possible, to avoid confusion and conflict further down the road. If last-minute trips arise, make sure you include information in your plan on how to address those situations. Also, remember that summer vacation dates should not infringe upon holiday visitation granted to the other parent.
Wilbourn recommended that parents in a child custody conflict need to establish their vacation 60 days in advance, at a minimum, to let the other parent know so that they can plan accordingly. Baumel also noted how important it is for parents to be truly flexible.
Remember to include the following details in your vacation plan:
Travel itineraries and contact information should either be included in the plan or given to your former spouse before leaving on vacation, so they know where the child is at all times.
“Each parent should be obligated to let the other parent know their itinerary,” Reinert said. “They don’t need to say what they are doing every day but give a general schedule like we are flying here, or driving this route.” It’s just a matter of respect and safety to let the other parent know and doesn’t take more than a quick email.
Time frames should also be age appropriate. Reinert’s general rule of thumb is if the child is under five, they shouldn’t spend more than five days without seeing the other parent, after age five, no more than two weeks.
Dealing with the aftermath of a divorce is a challenge, especially when children are involved. To top it off, creating a parenting plan not only for the summer but year-round, can be challenging and confusing. Remembering to put the needs of your children first and a commitment to co-parenting can help ensure that your parenting plan is successful.
If you need help negotiating a parenting plan or parenting time schedule with your former spouse this summer, the experienced family law attorneys at Modern Family Law can help. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your case and take the first steps toward a happy and stress-free summer break.
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