Summer may conjure up images of picnics, swimming pools and no homework, but those stress-free days are often the result of plans made well in advance. Planning ahead becomes even more necessary after divorce when there’s ample potential for disagreements with the ex. Those disagreements can sometimes be serious and may severely restrict what you’d like to do. So what do you need to know about summer, kids and divorce?
In this episode of my podcast, Conversations About Divorce, I’m joined by Valerie Jules McCarthy who is an attorney with the New Jersey law firm of Pashman Stein. Valerie has a ton of experience helping her clients resolve parenting issues and has lots of advice, especially if you are newly-divorced. You can listen to the podcast here or subscribe to it in iTunes.
Here’s what Valerie and I discuss …
It’s never too early to start talking to your ex about summer plans especially if you have a milestone, once-in-a-lifetime event coming up such as a niece’s wedding, granddad’s 75th birthday or a special overseas trip. By sharing the details with your ex, you’re giving them ample opportunity to be flexible with their time.
That being said, there are those ex’s that just want to follow the parenting plan to the T and who are not able to be flexible. In this case, you may have to be prepared to go to court and by communicating early, you’re giving yourself time to do this. McCarthy says that judges would look at this from what is in the child’s best interests and will often lean in favor of a milestone event.
Know Who Has Priority
Parenting plans often specify that Parent A has priority in even-numbered years for choosing their summer vacation dates and that Parent A must notify Parent B of those dates by a specified deadline. If your parenting plan has such a provision, make sure you’re familiar with it and that you follow it.
If your ex has priority and the notification deadline has come and gone and you’ve heard nothing from them ex about their plans, it’s best not to just go ahead and make your plans. Instead, do contact your ex and find out what’s going on. McCarthy says she’s had a situation where emails from one parent were going to Junk mail and so one parent believed they had fulfilled their obligations per the parenting plan and the other parent claimed they hadn’t. It can be a big ol’ mess and you definitely want to avoid making plans that you later have to cancel because your ex has priority and their dates overlap with yours.
Offer A Trade
If you want more time that your parenting plan allows or you perhaps you want to make two trips instead of just one, be prepared to offer something in exchange. Perhaps you could give up a Holiday, such as July 4 or Labor Day or perhaps more regular parenting time during the summer to compensate for the lost time.
For the sake of your on-going parenting relationship, do try to accommodate reasonable requests from your ex when you can. Not only will this make a difference to your kids, (because they do know when you and their other parent disagree …) at some point in the future you are going to need something from your ex and being flexible is definitely a two-way street.
The other reason to be flexible is that parenting plans need to change as children grow older and their interests and activities change. The vast majority of parents never go back to court to update the document but they do informally agree to different arrangements. While you may not want to go through the expense of updating and filing the whole document, you will probably want to have some sort of written confirmation between you.
Out-Of-State Travel: Is It Approval Or Notification?
Many parenting plans have an out-of-state travel provision. The most important thing you need to know about this is that sometimes it’s worded to require the approval of the other parent for any out-of-state travel and sometimes it’s much less onerous requiring simple notification. Approval is usually written in if one party has strong ties to another state and there are concerns that a party might attempt to relocate.
If your plan requires approval then if you’re the one who is traveling, start the approval process early so if your ex refuses you still have time to seek legal assistance. McCarthy says that approval should only be withheld when there is a true legitimate concern for the safety of the child.
These provisions often state what information needs to be supplied so it’s not just travel dates but also where you’ll be staying and contact numbers. This is so the non-traveling parent can reach you and the children in the event there is an emergency either at home or where they are.
Are You Traveling Overseas?
If you’re leaving the country then there are some extras that you’ll need. Firstly, current passports. Checking for these well in advance gives you time to replace lost or expired passports. It’s also a good idea to obtain a letter signed by your ex and notarized authorizing you to travel with the named minor child without them. You may never be asked for this by authorities but it is better to safe than sorry. If your ex refuses to give you this, then you can apply to the court for an order authorizing your travel.
You may also need to consider vaccinations. If you and your ex share decision-making on health then you will need to discuss this with them and ideally reach a consensus. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention is a good place to find recommended vaccines and medicines. If you can’t reach an agreement, then know that this is an area that is very difficult for a court to make a call on and you may find the disagreement blocking your travel.
Do talk about travel insurance. It’s a great safeguard for trip cancellations and delays but more importantly, your domestic health insurance likely won’t cover you overseas and as parents, we all know that being on vacation isn’t a reason for your child not to get sick.
Typically the costs associated with these travel extras are borne by the traveling parent but you might agree to share those which benefit you both, such as a passport renewal.
Adjust Regular Parenting Time
Chances are vacation plans are going to disrupt your regular parenting time schedule. It’s common practice to make adjustments to this schedule so that the non-vacationing parent has parenting time before and after the vacation. This is something you’ll want to discuss at the time you are discussing the vacation plans and it can get messy because dates and travel plans rarely align with your parenting schedule. Chances are it’s never going work out to a perfect 50/50 split. Once again, flexibility will go a long way in maintaining a cooperative parenting relationship with your ex.
Summer Camp Registrations
The basic guideline, whether it’s in your parenting plan or not, is that you cannot commit your child to an activity without the other parent’s permission, if that activity would encroach on that parent’s parenting time. So you will need to discuss summer camp plans before enrolling your child. The other reason for doing this is that your plan may only require your ex to share in the cost of extra-curricular activities if those activities are agreed in advance.
If you’re in the process of getting divorced and know that your STBX has a different philosophy on a particular activity than you, then try to get this addressed during your divorce negotiations. You may incur additional legal fees to do this but it may be less expensive than going back to court in the future each time a question about registration comes up.
Ultimately, the keywords for summer fun are communication and keeping an open mind. Avoid making assumptions about what your ex might do or say. If you put off sharing information then you put yourself under a tighter deadline and you’re asking your ex to make a decision under pressure which may increase the possibility that they will say no.
Valerie Jules McCarthy is an attorney with the New Jersey law firm of Pashman Stein. You can follow their blog at NJ Family Law 4 U.