Best Practices for Separated or Divorced Parents As Children Head Into Summer Vacation

Whether you have been separated for years or you are recently divorced, it is important to consider best practices for divorced parents during summer vacation. The first summer vacation in particular can be difficult to navigate for newly separated or divorced parents in New Jersey.  You and your kids deserve to enjoy your summer – hopefully out by a pool, at the beach, or outside soaking up the sun – not be fighting with your ex over the details.

Generally speaking, your child custody arrangements ideally should address any questions that could arise with regard to summer vacation. However, it’s not too late to figure things out if your agreement is silent or ambiguous on the issues.  Let’s dive in.

Camp or Summer Work-Related Childcare

Custody arrangements under New Jersey law should outline what the protocol is for summer camp or summer childcare. In general, New Jersey courts consider day camp during summer vacation—when it, in effect, serves the same function as school or daycare after school during the academic year—as work-related childcare. If your child is enrolled in a daycare, before or after care, or a summer camp because you are working, then these expenses fall into the “work-related childcare” category and should be addressed accordingly. Not only will you and your ex need to confer and agree on which camp or program to enroll your children (assuming that you share joint legal custody), you will need to allocate the expense of same accordingly. In some cases, the cost of work-related childcare is factored into the Child Support Guidelines and a higher amount of child support is calculated. In other cases, the parties agree to pay these expenses outside of child support, and they are paid in proportion to the parties incomes or in some other proportion as per the parties’ agreement. 

If your agreement is entirely silent on work-related child care, summer camp, and extracurricular activities, then you should first attempt to work with your ex to see if you can consent and agree on a program and allocation of expense. If not, you may want to consider getting in touch with a family law attorney to see whether the matter in dispute should go before the court.

Purchase of Gear, Clothes, or Equipment for Summer Activities

Similar to paying for day camp or summer childcare, your New Jersey custody arrangement should clarify how the parents will share these expenses.

If your child goes to a summer camp, chances are you’ll be sent a list of “gear” that they will need to have to participate in all of their camp activities in comfort and safety. If your child participates in a sports camp or sleep-away camp, that list may be a very long one. There may be special day trips or overnight trips that require additional fees and spending money for meals, etc. Remember that there are often other expenses related to summer camp, over and above tuition, that will need to be addressed.

Try to negotiate allocation of these expenses (and the burden of actually obtaining the requisite items) directly with your ex in the event that it’s not specifically delineated in your agreement.  If you can’t resolve it yourselves, then speak to a family law attorney to determine whether you need to return to court.

Summer Vacation Parenting Time and Summer Holidays

Your parenting time arrangement or parenting time plan should specify how the parents will share in summer vacation parenting time and summer holidays. While it can be difficult to know precisely what your summer vacation plans with your child will be, your parenting time plan should clarify how the parents will share parenting time while the child is off from school as precisely as possible. When planning your vacation and holiday parenting time, review your agreement for the “hierarchy” of time. Usually, regular parenting time is superseded/trumped by vacation parenting time, which is superseded/trumped by holiday parenting time.

If you are still in the process of getting divorced, you should ensure that you parenting time plan clarifies how parents will split time with the child over the summer, and whether one or both parents can take the child out of state (or even out of the country) on vacation.

Communication and Flexibility

New Jersey child custody law emphasizes that “frequent and continuing contact with both parents” after a divorce is in the best interests of the children unless there is a clear reason for contact with one of the parents to be limited. Accordingly, a child custody arrangement should make clear how parents plan to communicate with their child during summer vacation, including while the child may be on vacation with the other parent.

Communication with the other parent is just as important as communicating with your child. Things will come up – changes of plan, pool parties, special events and the like. If you communicate freely with the other parent and show flexibility in the schedule (when warranted) it is likely that the summer will go more smoothly for everyone, especially your kids.

If you and your ex have trouble communicating, ask your attorney about utilizing a mediator, family therapist, or a parenting coordinator to help address these summertime issues. Sometimes a little help goes a long way.

Contact a New Jersey Family Law Attorney for Help

Ultimately, when it comes to summer parenting time (and most other things) an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you can take away only three things from this article, you should plan early, talk often, and be flexible. If you have questions about managing your child custody arrangement over the summer, or if you need assistance with a modification, contact our New Jersey Family Law attorneys or call 732-545-4717 today.