When the livin’ ain’t (always) easy: Summertime child custody issues

Divorce, Family/Kids, Relationships

Summertime is usually period of rest, relaxation and smooth sailing. But not always. For co-parents of children subject to a court-ordered custody and visitation arrangement, the harried summer months often upend schedules and routines.

While standard visitation arrangements often provide much-needed structure for children from September through May, summer months can cause major upheaval for families eager to take out-of-state vacations, spend holidays with kids or schedule mid-week overnight visits outside the confines of the rigid judge-mandated plan.

The following post takes a look at typical custody issues facing co-parents in summer months, as well as possible solutions to help avoid mid-July meltdowns.

Joint custody in summer months

Almost all parents with a court-mandated custody and visitation order are provided with both summertime and school-year guidelines. However, summer schedule guidelines can be much less specific, often leaving parents to determine how the child will spend his or her summer weeks. In general, standard visitation orders may read something like this:

The parties shall exercise summer parenting time in alternating one week increments beginning the first Friday after the last day of school. Each period shall begin on Friday at 6:00 p.m. until the following Friday at 6:00 p.m. The alternate parenting week schedule shall continue until the children are scheduled to return to school. In the odd numbered years, the father shall start the first week. In the even numbered years, the mother shall start the first week.

Or this:

The non-custodial parent’s summer visitation will be for a six (6) weeks period; however, no more than two weeks will be exercised continuously without at least a one-week break.

Or, this …

[T]he summer vacation break shall be equally divided between the parents.

Two parents often request the assistance of a judge to set up custody and visitation arrangements in order to alleviate ongoing discussions about who goes where and when. So when a summer custody order breezes over this issue, parents are often left wondering how exactly to move forward.

Out-of-jurisdiction travel

One of the most common issues arising between co-parents is what to do when one parent wants to take the child on a longer trip to a distant locale. Generally speaking, unless the parent is due for an uninterrupted visitation week with the child, he or she is required to seek consent from the other parent before taking the child out of state or out of country.

Technically, taking a child out of jurisdiction without consent from the other parent could amount to parental kidnapping under applicable federal statutes. Therefore, it is always wise to get consent, in writing, from your co-parent before hopping on a plane.

Seasonal employment

Another issue often facing families in summer months involves one parent with seasonal employment, such as a parent working as a bartender, lifeguard or within the tourist industry. When this occurs, it is often difficult for that parent to maintain the typical visitation schedule, since work requires him or her to take on fewer hours as the custodial parent or conservator.

In this situation, it may be helpful for parents to enlist the services of extended family members or additional childcare providers. If the experience proves frustratingly complex, it may be time to petition the court for a stronger, more specific court order to address summer schedules.

Child custody affects child support

In some cases, parents’ child support situations may change during summer months due to the payor parent’s increased time with the child.

In many jurisdictions, child support orders are created by reviewing the parents’ financial information in conjunction with the amount of time each parent spends with the child. These mandates are then adjusted accordingly. For the non-custodial parent paying child support, the sudden onset of weeks-long visitation or parenting time could potentially result in a decrease in support obligations.

How does this work on a practical level? As many parents know, it can take months to get a date in family court, rendering it virtually impossible to adjust a child support order for just the short summer months. Parents who are concerned about the increase in expenses during the summer should consider meeting with the custodial parent to discuss differences and see whether an amended summer amount is possible.

If that discussion proves fruitless, it may be time for you or your attorneys to petition the court for a caveat in the standing order that addresses summer months.

Keeping the peace

Co-parenting with an ex-partner can be difficult, but not impossible. A recent article by family and matrimonial lawyer Liz Mandarano suggests keeping open communication, planning everything in advance and seeking mediation if tempers flair. What’s more, keeping the peace with your child’s other parent sets a positive example for the child, enhancing his or her relationship with both parents equally.