It’s the end of July; the perfect time to be discussing with your former or about to be former spouse the plans for the child(ren) for the balance of the summer, right? Well, why not? If the summer schedule has been discussed in the first three months of the year what fun would that be? And that would have meant more rational discussions and advance planning and other things that would give stability to the lives of the children. What fun is that?
Candidly, lawyers hate custody at least twice a year. The first and worst is anything having to do with Christmas. Christmas can be discussed rationally for 10 months of the year. But after November 1st, it becomes a holiday whose single purpose is to torture lawyers as much as it tortures parents. As most folks realize, Christmas is usually split with Thanksgiving. One parent gets the turkey; the other gets Santa and all the trimmings. The longer one waits to get the harmony of this split established the more embedded “family plans” become. And “family plans” never work well with an easy division of the holidays. It is now late July. If the plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas are not already set in stone, call your lawyer immediately. Or, wait a few months so that the intensity of the battle can reach epic proportions together with the bill for the negotiations.
The second time to hate custody is any time after July 4. This is when the non-plans or the plans articulated in a phone message but never written down become an emergency. Of course your ex knew that you always take the third week of July for your annual, but not ever attended, family reunion. And of course your no good former spouse just booked a trip to Disney on the week you meant to schedule a trip with the kids to Bar Harbor.
Every year, countless emotions and dollars are bled on the altar of uncommunicated custody plans. All of it is completely unnecessary and only masochistic lawyers enjoy this process.
Save yourself some money and you and your lawyer some angst by committing to the concept that each parent will have summer plans in place not later than April 1st. In odd numbered years, you set the schedule by that date; in even numbered years, the other parent gets the preference. This format allows everyone a reasonable shot at registering for the “good” camps and not just those that have a space or two. It allows reasonable, if not optimum, seashore rentals.
A couple of other tips: a week’s vacation is five days tacked on to your usual custodial weekend and not seven days that only overlaps the other parent’s weekend and not your weekend. If you want a shore rental which typically runs Saturday to Saturday, put that on the table early or understand that the start and or end of your vacation will be at home. If it is likely that your co-parent will also do a week at the shore, how nice to avoid the additional 4-6 hours of travel for the kids by arranging a common drop off point in South Jersey. Finally, most sure that custody orders clearly indicate that holidays “trump” the ordinary schedule, but that vacations do not trump holidays. So, if Father has July 4th, it is neither equitable nor appropriate for Mother to take her vacation the first week of July.
We also see parents unduly stress their kids by engaging in competitive vacationing. So father takes them for a week to Disney. Mother will “see” that vacation and raise the stakes by taking them immediately to a ranch in Montana. Imagine being the kid. Two great vacations, but when placed back to back, the child ends up exhausted.
Last, but not least, does vacation mean “summer?” That used to be the standard, but today more and more parents are opting to take vacation either during the school year or over winter or spring break. Schools seem to be more than willing to accept the disappearance of children during the academic year once assured that class assignments will be completed notwithstanding the absence of the children. Whether this is appropriate ends up being an unproductive and often expensive debate. Better to have it before one parent announces a plan to haul the kids away in January to “experience” the culture of Puerto Rico or Mexico as lived in a $300 a night resort.