The lazy, hazy days of summer have arrived! You want your child to have a fun, relaxing break from school, with time to play and get outside, see friends, take some lessons, or go to sleep-away camp. Perhaps you’re looking forward to visiting extended family or friends, planning a trip to some exciting locale, or just some much-needed staycation downtime for bonding with your child.
Modern parents put a lot of planning, juggling, and arranging into making a memorable summer for their kids. It could leave anyone feeling a bit frazzled.
Divorced parents face extra challenges around summer vacation, holidays, school breaks, and trips. The out-of-the-ordinary days you most want to be happy, celebratory, and carefree can cause stress, conflict, misunderstandings, scheduling hassles, big headaches—and sometimes court intervention and fees—if not explicitly addressed in your custody and visitation agreement.
In California, the court allows a divorcing couple to work together, along with their child custody attorneys, to create a parenting plan. Once agreed on, filed with the court, and signed by the judge, it becomes a court order that must be followed.
There’s so much to think about and do when you’re going through the process of dissolving your marriage and so much emotion it can be easy to overlook essential details. When drawing up a parenting time agreement, it’s common to focus on the day-to-day routine and forget to make special provisions for vacations and holidays. But ironing out those guidelines from the start can help you enjoy low-stress vacations and quality time with your kids.
California does not have a standard vacation custody schedule. Still, the court offers a helpful form FL-341(C) Children’s Holiday Schedule Attachment, which lists all legal holidays and school breaks to help you plan.
Tips for building vacation and holiday plans into your parenting plan:
Focus on what’s best for your child. Remember that except in rare circumstances, children benefit from meaningful time and a steady relationship with each parent. Vacations and holidays may also include precious time spent with grandparents or cousins; keeping traditions like those alive after divorce can provide stability.
Collaborate and compromise. The more amicably you can work together, giving a little here and there, the more likely you are to reach an agreement that works well for your whole family in its new form. Don’t weaponize scheduling.
Decide how you want to divide vacation time. If you don’t make specific arrangements in your custody agreement, your regular schedule will apply even during vacation time. Sticking to your routine can be challenging during long breaks, especially in summer when the kids’ activities don’t correspond with a typical school day, or they’re going away to camp or playing a sport, or you hope to travel, or as working parents, you have different childcare needs. You can ask the court to approve a modified summer schedule that works for your family. Some children benefit from more predictability to keep their routines in place over the summer. It’s common to allot a block of uninterrupted vacation time to each parent, typically two weeks. You’ll want to define whether vacation time is fixed or flexible in advance.
Sharing Holidays. There are many ways to split time and celebrate the holidays.
Some families alternate holidays year-round (if you get Thanksgiving in odd years, your co-parent gets it in even years). Others share each vacation and holiday throughout the year. Regarding other special days, heterosexual couples may assign Mother’s Day to Mom and Father’s Day to Dad. You may want to agree that each parent gets their birthday, no matter how it falls. When parents come from different faith traditions, you can assign those religious holidays to the parent who observes them. Some families have a day that’s special to them; if your ex’s family has a big reunion the Saturday before Memorial Day every year, you can give that in exchange for a day that is meaningful to you.
Outline logistics. Think about pick-ups, drop-offs, transportation, and so forth. Will you share the costs for camps and activities?
Build in consistency. You and your ex may have somewhat different parenting styles, and that’s okay; but kids benefit from some rules (ex: curfew) being the same.
Establish guidelines for travel. It’s advisable to agree on specific provisions and conditions for travel, especially out of state or country—timeframes, advance notice, sharing itineraries, contact information, staying in touch, the presence of a new partner, and so forth.
Stay flexible. Unexpected things will happen, and plans will change. Keep the lines of communication open. If you trade days to accommodate your co-parent’s schedule, you will likely have their goodwill when you need to change something. It’s always wise to put any adjustments in writing.
The skilled and caring San Francisco family attorneys at SFLG are experienced in all aspects of custody and visitation. We can help you navigate the crucial details of your parenting plan, so it works for your family all year round.
By Debra Schoenberg