If you co-parent, you already know parenting schedules can make life difficult — even for parents on good terms. Navigating the practicalities of “kid exchanges” and fair time for both parents become even more complicated when kids are out of school for the summer. How do you reduce conflicts around summer vacation custody issues?
The good — and bad — news is that Washington courts don’t want to get overly involved in day-to-day custody issues. This means co-parents must work things out for themselves. If both parents agree, they are generally free to modify the custody schedule to meet their needs. However, the “agreeing” part is usually where co-parents get stuck.
Here are a few tips for negotiating summer break visitation issues.
- Start early. Planning ahead is one of the best ways to reduce conflict about summer plans. In January, you and your co-parent should look at your schedules and exchange emails (or other written records) about vacations, holidays, and other plans for the summer and the rest of the coming year.
- Think creatively. Consider how your children will spend most of their time in the summer. Will it work fine to keep the same custody exchange schedule, or would it be better to switch to a different one? You might consider exchanging weekly or every two weeks, especially if your kids will be attending camps or other activities away from home.
- Make a list of your priorities for the year. Write down your anticipated plans that are most important to you (and your child). This should include ongoing traditions as well as one-time or special events.
- Negotiate. If you are committed to taking your kids to Disney World and want a few extra visitation days in the summer, perhaps you can let your co-parent have a few more days over fall break.
- Get help. A neutral third party, like a family therapist, mediator, or religious advisor, may be able to help you reach an agreement if you are struggling. If you don’t feel up to having this kind of discussion, you may want to contact an attorney experienced in resolving family law conflicts. They can point you towards alternative dispute resolution options in your community; if these fail, they can help you petition the court for help.
- Memorialize your agreements. Once you have outlined an agreeable solution for both parents, write it down and make sure you both have a copy. This minimizes the number of “that’s not what we agreed to!” discussions you will have when summer arrives.
Obviously, not every situation can be planned in advance. When situations arise, remember that your co-parent also loves and wants to spend time with your kids! It’s tempting to communicate entirely by text and email, but sometimes actually talking to your co-parent can help. Be flexible and remind yourself that your children’s best interests are your first priority.
If you need help resolving summer visitation and child custody issues, don’t hesitate to contact a family law professional. Contacting an attorney doesn’t have to be an escalation or a sign of hostility; an experienced family lawyer has helped many other parents resolve conflicts creatively and can use their experience to help you with your situation. However, an attorney can also help you understand your legal options and take action to involve the court.