Summer can be difficult to navigate for divorced parents—particularly the first summer after the finalization of a divorce. It may feel like just when you and your children have settled into a new routine and your children are feeling more secure in their new circumstances, your carefully crafted schedule no longer applies because school is out, vacation planning is underway, and your children may be expecting their usual summer activities like playdates, summer camp, and sleeping in.
So how do parents work out a summer schedule that accommodates an entirely different daily routine, and is it ever okay to deviate from a court order for parenting time?
Plan Ahead For Summer Schedules
Most court custody agreements for school-aged children include an altered schedule for the summer months when school isn’t in session. When making that plan, parents typically consider their summer schedules and address important considerations such as whether or not children will attend a summer day camp to keep the routine similar to that during the school year, or whether hiring at-home care is best.
Divorcing parents typically negotiate their custody or parenting time arrangement together with their child custody attorneys and/or a professional mediator. If they can’t come to mutually agreeable terms, a judge decides for them during the divorce trial. Planning ahead for the changed routine during the summer months alleviates stress and prevents misunderstandings during summer and other school vacations.
Common Summer Parenting Schedules
Divorcing parents with young children typically negotiate a schedule that provides time for both parents to spend with their children during the change in routine when school is out for the summer. Common summer parenting time schedules include:
The 2-2-3 schedule for young children: this schedule has the children staying with one parent for 2 days, then the other for 2 days, then the first for 3 days, and repeats. This works well to prevent very young children from enduring long separations from either parent and allows each parent several 3-day weekends with their children during the summer.
Alternating weeks: This schedule works well for older children and allows each parent to schedule travel vacations with their children.
Every 2 weeks: This is a good plan for older children who wish to minimize the amount of time they spend transitioning between homes and works well for parents who live a significant distance apart.
The entire summer with the non-custodial parent: for some parents, careers, circumstances, and schedules don’t allow both parents to share parenting time in a 50/50 arrangement so one parent has primary custody and the other parent has visitation—such as every other weekend and one weeknight dinner. In these cases, sometimes the non-custodial parent can enjoy primary custody during the summer months with the non-custodial parent having an agreed-upon amount of visitation, ranging from every other weekend to no summer visitation at all.
The option of spending the entire summer with a non-custodial parent is especially helpful for non-custodial parents who live in another state since it allows them time to bond with their children and enjoy the daily routine of parenting they don’t have during the school year.
Are Parents Legally Bound to Keep a Court-Ordered Summer Schedule?
Parents can stray from their court-ordered custody arrangement at any time if both parents agree. Mutual compromises between divorced parents happen often during the summer when co-parents are able to communicate well and place their children’s best interests over any lingering negative feelings about their ex-spouse. Some tips for making temporary changes to a parenting schedule to accommodate summer vacation include:
Requesting modifications to the legal parenting time schedule as children mature and their needs change—for instance, teenagers no longer require day camps and may choose to spend more time with the parent who lives in the community where they have friends and activities
Alert the other parent early to any travel plans over the summer that impact the normal parenting schedule so they have time to adjust their own plans
Exchange plan changes in writing with a signature and date to minimize the possibility of one parent attempting to use the change against the other in court by alleging non-compliance with a court-ordered parenting schedule
Come to terms ahead of time over which parent pays what share of any additional summer expenses such as for day camps, sleep-away camps, and other summer activities
Most importantly, be flexible! Children bear the brunt of tension between their divorced parents. When co-parents can communicate effectively and accommodate temporary changes in the parenting arrangement during the summer, summertime can remain an enjoyable experience for children.