Kids wait all year for summer vacation. Now summer is here and all kinds of visions dance in your head about keeping kids busy, entertained, structured, happy, and distracted from the throes of your divorce. Combining these challenges with a multitude of potential celebrations such as graduations and weddings, it is no wonder that most divorced families view summer as a particularly stressful time.
Kids who are home from school have a lot of available time that needs to be scheduled. Some will benefit from going away to camp or to their grandparents, while others will benefit from more one-on-one time with parents because they may find the isolation from divorce as alienating. It is probably a good idea to ask the kids how they want to spend their summer before any final decisions are made.
Summer visitation is important for you and your former spouse to discuss. Visitation scheduling can prove very complicated.
“If your divorce is final, you are required to abide by your final divorce decree regarding summer visitation. I recommend that you go back and read your divorce decree to make sure you are clear on your rights and obligations. If you do not yet have a final divorce decree, I highly recommend that you seek to get a temporary agreement in place for the summer. There are several reasons for coming to a summer visitation arrangement sooner rather than later: (1) You can make travel plans, if necessary; (2) You can make arrangements for taking time off work or arranging child care/camp during the time you have the children; and (3) You can ensure that both parents will have some time with the children over the summer."1
There is no shortage of tensions that can easily explode if unaddressed. In order to facilitate a peaceful summer, divorced parents will need to cooperate with each other. For many couples, divorce is placed on hold — waiting for summer to draw to a close and when kids head back to school.
“Unfortunately for other couples, as the temperature rises, so does the acrimony as the parents fight over who will be with the children for the month of July and who will be with the children in August. If the parents cannot cooperate, rather than having fun under the sun with their children, they will spend the summer in a courtroom with their lawyers and a judge.”2
Be forewarned and start early. Plan for a peaceful summer so you will know when you are “there yet”:
Plan a budget for your child’s (children’s) summer activities. Activities include camps, tutors, supplemental school, driver’s education, travel, club memberships and lessons, sports, etc.
- Identify allowable limits for spending.
- How will you resolve disagreements about what the kids do and what it costs?
- What resources are available for both of you to pay for their summer expenses?
- What is your involvement with the kids in their activities?
Plan for your child’s summer job:
- Who will get them to and from work?
- Will you help or require your child to set aside savings from their paycheck?
Plan for how much time you will be with your child(ren):
- What amount of time will be shared with each child/parent?
- Will it be shared equally?
- Will it deviate from your year long visitation and custody schedule?
- How may this affect child support?
You and your ex-spouse (or soon to be) or the court may agree to modify child support payments in different amounts during vacation periods when the child is with the noncustodial parent. The lower amount of child support paid during vacation periods with the noncustodial parent might reflect the savings to the custodial parent for reduced food expenses and/or child care. If you are the noncustodial parent, the extended time with your kids may allow for a reprieve or reduction in paying child support.
Plan for your child’s camp or summer school:
- If you are paying for child support, will you continue to pay the same amount of child support or will you pay for other expenses in lieu of child support?
- Make arrangements with your ex-spouse regarding who will drop off and pick up your child(ren).
Plan for your child(ren) staying at home in the summer:
- Will your child-related costs increase? For example, will you have greater expenses for babysitting, food, entertainment, driving, etc? How will these increased costs be shared, if at all, with your ex-spouse?
Generally speaking, if the noncustodial parent wants to pay for extra-curricular activities of the child, that is fine (and nice for the child), but the court will treat such payments as gifts to the child, not as part of the noncustodial parent’s support obligation. That is rarely a basis for reducing child support payments to the custodial parent
Court orders or divorce settlements almost always provide that child support is to be paid in specific dollar amounts from one parent to the other. Courts do not want the complications of trying to sort out whether the parties on a particular occasion agreed to an alternate way of making child support payments. Courts also do not want the noncustodial parent unilaterally changing the method of paying child support and potentially interfering with the budget planning of the custodial parent.
This is why it is so important to formally identify the additional child related expenses to be shared and paid in some fashion by both parents.
“Most of us look forward to summertime and vacations with our children. So, why is it that divorce can turn the golden months into tarnished experiences? Aside from the too often intrusive emotional baggage, divorce brings an abundance of add-on complications. Two key principles in the law (and in common sense) are for decisions to be in the best interests of the child and promoting an ongoing and continuous relationship with each parent. Keeping these principles in mind is key toward their achievement. In addition, parents benefit from good communication, a willingness to be flexible, and thoughtful planning."3
1 May 30, 2011 Atlanta Divorce Attorney Blog by Meriwether & Tharp
2 As Summer Begins, Visitation Issues Heat Up. Posted by Daniel Clementon May 26, 2006
3 SUMMERTIME, VACATION AND VISITATION: Take care of luggage, not baggage, By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz , LMFT
FPA Member Lili A. Vasileff, CFP®, CDFA™, is President of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners.