When parents get divorced, they need to think about how to handle summer parenting time as well as parenting time during the school year – for their kids’ sakes.
When divorced parents think about their schedules with their children, they often focus on what happens during the school year. For some parents, the standard parenting time in the Family Code – or the expanded version of it – works well for their family. Other families aim for a 50-50 schedule, often using a week on/week off approach, or a 5-2-2-5 or 2-2-3 schedule.
With all of these schedules, there’s a certain routine that children become accustomed to, and that routine helps give them a sense of security. While parenting schedules need to address the divorcing parties’ preferences as well as the unique realities of the family, parenting plans should also consider what gives the children the best sense of security. In summer, the routine and structure of the school year is interrupted, and this can be unsettling for some children. Vacations and camps can be fun for children, but the summer rhythm is not what they spend most of the year experiencing.
The parenting schedule in the summer can also get disruptive. In an effort to even out the amount of time that the children spend with each parent, the standard custody order allows the non-custodial parent to choose 30 days of time with the children (in one or two blocks), and the custodial parent can interrupt one of those blocks of time by taking a weekend. This tends to be a radical departure from what the children experience during the school year, when most of them typically see each of their parents at least every other week.
Most of the parents I’ve worked with take a different approach from the Family Code. Typically, families want to provide the option of uninterrupted time for each parent during the summer, which enables them to enjoy time out of town, or a staycation when the kids don’t have school on their schedule. They designate an amount of time each parent has the option of claiming, and they have a process that determines whose dates take priority, and what the timing is for solidifying their summer plans.
Some families also opt for a different schedule in the summer for those weeks when there isn’t vacation or camp time scheduled. I’ve seen parents who follow a version of the standard possession schedule during the school year exchange schedules for the summer, or introduce more of a 50-50 schedule during the summer. I’ve also seen parents institute a week on/week off schedule during the summer – regardless of what kind of schedule they follow during the school year – which creates built-in vacation opportunities.
In determining what works best for a summer schedule, be sure to consider what your children need. For children in early elementary, 30 days can be a long time to go without seeing one parent, but older children typically handle that more easily. Scheduled camps and other activities can also make it challenging to apportion a large block of time. However, if you and your ex are geographically far apart, longer uninterrupted visits might be the best solution given the disruption, time and expense of traveling.
Ultimately, it’s best if parents can plan summers together, sufficiently in advance to enable plans to be made, travel deals to be secured, and child care coverage to be lined up. The more that parents can talk and plan together, the better it is for the whole family. It’s not necessarily easy to arrive at a plan that works for everyone, but parents who work together are better positioned to devise a plan that best serves their children.
About the author: Syd Sharples is a former Collaborative Divorce Texas board president and an Austin-based psychotherapist and collaborative divorce facilitator.