Perhaps Summer 2022 will be the first summer for you and your co-parent to navigate. Or perhaps you and your co-parent had issues last year and you would love to have a peaceful, relaxing summer with your children this year. How can you avoid the “summertime blues” that can occur with planning the summer parenting time schedule? Start planning for it now!
Here are some recommended steps to “beat the heat” this year:
- Consult your specific parenting time order. The order may already spell out how the summer break should be divided. If so, lay out the school break on a calendar, throw in the holidays and special days, and give it to your co-parenting for consideration. If it doesn’t, but the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (“IPTG”) have been adopted in your case, keep reading.
- The IPTG provides that the parent who is labeled as “non-custodial” must provide a proposed parenting time schedule, in writing, to their co-parent no later than April 1. However, the earlier you can do this, the better, since summer camps and work-related childcare options fill up rapidly. Your co-parent will thank you. Run this schedule by your attorney before proposing it to ensure compliance with your court order. Expand the schedule to not only include days requested but exchange times as well. This will hopefully eliminate future problems or attempts to derail parenting time. Be sure to send this to your co-parent as soon as possible, and no later than April 1st. Ask your co-parent to acknowledge receiving the proposed schedule. As a reminder, the IPTG provide that “A timely selection [of summer parenting time] shall not be rejected by the other parent.” IPTG, Section II(D)(3). Occasionally, however, there may be slight adjustments that need to be made to a schedule that is otherwise provided timely and complies with a court order, such as restrictions on vacation time from an employer. The IPTG do provide that these types of “employer-imposed restrictions shall be considered by the parents” in scheduling parenting time, and the adjustments should be made for the benefit of the children and both parents to be able to maximize their time together.
- If you are labeled as the “custodial parent,” if you have NOT received a proposed schedule from your co-parent following the April 1st deadline, follow the steps above to create a proposed schedule to avoid uncertainty and potential hassles later. If you have received a schedule, and the schedule complies with the terms of the order and the IPTG and there are no conflicts, great! Follow the schedule and enjoy the summer. But if the schedule is just plain wrong or does not consider any employer-imposed restrictions, suggest revisions immediately and hopefully before reservations are made and plans are set in stone.
- If you and your co-parent are going to split the summer into two chunks, ensure that each parent’s time is clearly defined and detailed. The IPTG provide that, “During any extended summer period of more than two (2) consecutive weeks with the non-custodial parent, the custodial parent shall have the benefit of the regular parenting time schedule set forth above, which includes alternating weekends and mid-week parenting time, unless impracticable because of distance created by out of town vacations.” IPTG, Section II(D)(3). Even if the non-custodial parent exercises more time alternating weekends and one-night mid-week, the IPTG suggest that the custodial parent should only have the “schedule set forth above,” which presumably means what we would call the “minimum” amount suggested in Section II(D)(1), Friday at 6:00 P.M. through Sunday at 6:00 P.M. and one evening per week for up to four (4) hours, but possibly an overnight, if feasible. However, remember that during the custodial parent’s half of the summer, the non-custodial parent will still have his or her regular parenting time pursuant to the order. You and your co-parent may decide to make things more uniform for the children and therefore can agree that both parents will have the same regular parenting time schedule that the non-custodial parent enjoys during the school year, such as a midweek or Sunday overnight. Regardless, it is best to ensure that both parents have clear expectations and a visual calendar on which to fall back.
- If it makes more sense for you and your co-parent to use a week-on/week-off schedule for the summer, suggest that the exchange day be a Friday or Sunday so that each parent can enjoy an uninterrupted week and uninterrupted weekend. It’s best to avoid an exchange day other than on a weekend, as that will only cause headaches for both parties trying to plan for enrichment camps and vacations.
- Be mindful of the other parent’s summer parenting time holidays, such as Memorial Day weekend, Father’s Day weekend, and July 4..Many a parent has had to delay leaving for a family trip because the Father’s Day weekend was overlooked in planning.
- Never make reservations for hotels, timeshares or purchase plane tickets until the summer parenting time schedule is acknowledged and confirmed by both parents, in writing (email is fine). It’s much easier and less expensive to make the arrangements once rather than to have a costly flight re-booking fee. Once those reservations and plans are made, if the child is traveling with you, relay an itinerary immediately, and no fewer than seven (7) days prior to the trip. The itinerary should include “travel dates, destinations, and the places where either child or the traveling parent can be reached,” pursuant to the “Emergency Notification” provisions of the IPTG, Section I(A)(6). If your child/ren will be spending the night at a location, that is considered a “destination” and should be shared with your co-parent. It is not necessary or required to note everyday trips or amusement parks that may be visited.
- If your parenting time order includes parenting time under Section III, “Parenting Time When Distance is a Major Factor,” confirm that all travel details are worked out well in advance, and preferably before April 1st. Make sure now that an adult will be traveling with the child, if that is required under the order. If you’re the custodial parenting, do not unexpectedly “drop-in” during your co-parent’s time, or demand to provide childcare under the “Opportunity for Additional Parenting Time,” unless your co-parent specifically requests your help. Remember that if the “distance between residences” and time available does not make it practical to offer the opportunity for additional time, then there should be no expectation for the time to be offered by the non-custodial parent on his or her time. Set expectations early and head these issues off at the pass before the child gets on the plane.
- If scheduling summer parenting time continues to be a constant problem because of misunderstandings or ongoing disagreement with your co-parent, consult with your attorney. If you don’t have an attorney, consider hiring a knowledgeable family law attorney who can help sort out your summer parenting plan. If you have an attorney and things are still rough, your attorney might also suggest asking for the appointment of a Parenting Coordinator (“PC”). A PC may be appointed “by agreement of the parties OR formal order of the court,” pursuant to IPTG, Section V(C)(1), so a party’s failure to agree to a PC does not necessarily mean that a PC cannot be appointed. Petition the court now to put an experienced PC in place well before trouble arises next summer. Even if the PC only meets with the parties for an intake appointment and then sits idly, the PC can ensure that a parenting plan is created which effectuates the terms of the parties’ order and the IPTG well in advance of the summer, as well as for the upcoming school year.
Hopefully, with some advanced planning, you won’t need a cure for the summertime blues, you can avoid them! If you need help sorting out your summer schedule, contact the attorneys of Wanzer Edwards.