When parents divorce with children, one of the biggest issues is naturally how parenting time will be divided. Summer can provide particular challenges to co-parenting by divorced parents.
Children may have lessons, activities and camps to attend, sometimes with irregular schedules or short durations. Each parent may want to take a vacation with the kids. The Fourth of July and family reunions may include grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on one side of the family or the other who want to see the children (or with whom the kids would like to spend time). In Minnesota, many people also go "up north" to a family cabin or to a small resort, another place parents will probably want to include their children.
Without the structure to family schedules necessitated by the weekly rhythm of school, summer stretches into the future as a long palette of time to be filled in, and both parents usually want to maximize their summer months with the kids.
Load your initial agreement with summer scheduling and conflict resolution planning
Many divorcing couples are able to negotiate a marital settlement agreement in which they set out how they agree to resolve the legal issues in their divorce, including custody and parenting time. At the time this agreement is drafted, paying particular attention to summertime parenting time schedules can help to prevent conflict later. These kinds of issues can be spelled out with specificity in the agreement:
- How will the summer division of time be structured?
- How will vacations with one parent or the other be scheduled?
- May either parent take the children out of state or out of the country on vacation without the other parent's permission?
- What about holidays, birthdays, special extended family events and similar happenings be divided?
- Can provision be made for how to handle spontaneous, unforeseen events that may arise in the life of either parent?
- In case of a need to change a predetermined part of the summer schedule, can a future conflict resolution method be agreed upon in the settlement agreement?
- If a child's activity or preference conflicts with the predetermined schedule, how will that be resolved?
In negotiating these provisions, the divorcing spouse should think about whether a more open and flexible approach to summer scheduling is better considering the personalities involved, or whether a detailed and precise calendar should be developed.
Should the parents be unable to negotiate an agreement and the parenting time issues go before a judge in the divorce, the parent's attorney should advocate for similar summer parenting time provisions in the judge's order by submitting a proposed parenting plan to the court.
When summer conflict arises despite the best laid plans
After a divorce, sometimes summer conflict around parenting time bubbles to the surface despite attempts to avoid it. If the parents are unable to resolve their disagreements informally, a parent may want to consult an experienced family lawyer about what options exist.
It may be possible to resolve summer issues short of going to court for a formal modification of the divorce decree, although an attorney can advise the parent whether that is necessary or advisable. The parents may be able to agree to hire another professional with special training in resolving these kinds of issues through alternative dispute resolution methods, also called ADR, involving a neutral third party to help the parties get to agreement.
For example, in Minnesota, possibilities include a Parenting Time Expeditor or PTE, a Parenting Consulting or PC or a mediator. These ADR methods may save time and money and lessen stress, which is always a good idea when tension can spill over into the lives of the children involved.
Janet L. Goehle, Attorney at Law, in St. Paul is an experienced family lawyer who advises her divorce clients on ADR in parenting time disputes.