This article is from Syd Sharples, LCSW, the current president of The Collaborative Law Institute of Texas and an Austin-based psychotherapist and collaborative divorce facilitator.
Summers introduce a new rhythm to family life. Children are home from school, many parents must schedule child care, and families might plan vacations. For some families, summer vacation and the family time it brings is a source of excitement; for others, figuring out how to keep the kids engaged and out of trouble for nearly three months is a daunting task. For divorced families, there is the additional dimension of now needing to consider the needs and schedules of two separate households. There is a wide range of summer custody schedules available for parents and children, and being able to find the one that works best for your unique situation will help everyone have an enjoyable, peaceful summer.
A key to making the entire summer schedule a success is planning and communication. Typically, the schedule that divorced families follow during the school year undergoes at least some minor changes when summer arrives. If possible, parents enjoy extended, uninterrupted time with their children during the summer, when kids are free from their weekday obligations at school. Parents should identify how much time each would like to reserve with their children. Children’s summer schedules can get pretty packed, and since many parents work during the summer, and vacation time can be limited, blocks of one to two weeks are fairly typical amounts of time to specify. It’s also important to be clear about whose summer plans have priority in any given year. If you both want to get away with the kids for a Fourth of July weekend, for example, it’s helpful to have a system for alternating first dibs on the summer. Divorced parents frequently do trade this back and forth from year to year. Communicating plans early on is both respectful and conducive to a successful and peaceful summer. Some families will start this process as early as mid-March, which has the added benefit of enabling you to secure low fares and rates if you plan on getting away.
The regular schedule can also vary during the summer. Some families opt to minimize transitions during the summer; for instance, children might spend a week at one house, then a week at the other house during the summer, while following a different schedule during the school year. In any case, activities need to be scheduled and child care might need to be increased. The more parents can talk about this and agree on the summer plan, the more stress-free and enjoyable it will be for everyone. If conflict is high between the parents, it can be a good idea to work with a mental health professional who can facilitate the conversation and help the divorced parents devise a summer plan that works as smoothly as possible.