The famed lyrics of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” come to mind as we begin to see kids at the shopping malls, fast food restaurants and movie theaters during the day. Summer is here, and children of all ages look forward to the break from traditional school days, studies and getting up early every morning. But what about children whose parents are separated? How do they share time with both parents and still enjoy the time out of school? What has our legislature deemed to be in the best interest of children regarding summer parenting time?
The Standard Possession Order and Summer
My clients start calling in April asking, “What does this Order mean? It says I have to designate my summer visitation by April 1… What if I don’t?” and “What is this I’m supposed to do by April 15? This Order is so confusing!!!!”
During the school year, the standard time for visiting the noncustodial parent (NCP) is pretty easy to understand. Many people know from personal experience or at least have a close friend or family member that gets their kids on the first, third and fifth weekends of every month. But what happens in the summer?
By April 1 the NCP must designate the dates they want to have the kids, to be exercised in no more than two periods of possession. The number of days that parent has the children will depend on how far they live from the child. If you live under 100 miles from the kids, you get 30 days. If you live over 100 miles, you get 42 days. The NCP also continues to get the first, third and fifth weekends.
Then by April 15, the custodial parent (CP) designates either one or two weekends during the NCP’s extended summer to have the children – depending on whether the 30 or 42 day time period applies. The CP may also designate one weekend (a first, third or fifth weekend) that would otherwise belong to the NCP for an uninterrupted extended time with the kids.
If the NCP does not make a designation by the April 1 deadline, the family code sets out “default” days of June 15 through July 31 (if you are allowed 42 days) and July 1 through July 31 (if you are allowed 30 days)
But My Kids Do NOT Want to Go!
Generally speaking, encouraging your child to spend time with the other parent is positive and reassuring for the child. But how is the best way to prepare the kids for the extended time? Here are a few suggestions. (Thanks to Dr. Becca Ballinger, child psychologist and Modern Parenting Expert)
Schedule a planning meeting
This might be dif cult if you do not have a very good relationship with the other parent, but try to have a positive, fruitful conversation for your kids’ sakes. The more effort you put in to creating a positive co-parenting relationship, the better the outcome for your kids.
If possible, agree to days and times that work around both households – there’s no requirement that parents utilize the legislature’s “standard summer visitation”. To avoid future disputes, however, if you do not go by the provisions in your order, it’s best to document your agreement in writing.
Discuss and come to agreement on the household rules, expectations for behavior, and discipline. It’s ok if there are different rules for some minor behaviors (for example, at their house its ok to have TV time every night, while you only allow three nights per week at your house), but it’s best if you both agree on the “big” rules.
Inform the other parent about any new developmental details that have occurred in the past year or so. If the NCP has not seen the kids in a long time or if they don’t normally spend a long stretch of time with the kids, prepare them for any new changes your kids have gone through such as new bedtimes, new dietary habits, etc.
Watch your attitude, as it influences how your kids feel about the situation
It is natural for your kids to voice some concerns about having to go spend time away from their primary residence. When these conversations come up, listen to your child’s concerns and then try to point out a positive reason for spending time with the other parent.
Do not talk excessively about the fun things you will be doing while they are away
It’s understandable that you will plan some things to do while your kids are away, but it’s unfair to cause your kids to wish they were with you instead of with their other parent. Let your kids know about your plans, but balance these conversations with discussing the fun things your kids will be doing with their other parent.
Summer is short…
Once they are home, it is good to hear all about their visit, but do not pry if they don’t feel up to sharing every detail with you. And as much as you might want to, don’t ask questions about the other parent’s new home, spouse, job, etc. that might make your kids feel uncomfortable.
Most importantly, encourage everyone to enjoy the summer and HAVE FUN!!!!