The school year is ending soon and divorced or separated parents should have a comprehensive and thoughtful plan in place for their children during the summer months.
SmolenPlevy’s Co-founding Principal, Alan Plevy, reminds people that the weeks when school is not in session can be a complicated time for parents who share custody and it can be very confusing for the children. “If the court has entered an Order or you have a written agreement, you should already have a plan in place,” he says, “and most agreements set out deadlines for travel usually well in advance of school breaks – if parents don’t make timely decisions, they can lose their right to have priority in the selection of exclusive time with the children.”
He always cautions parents to avoid becoming competitive over the children. “Children value quality time over fancy trips and they don’t care about which parent takes them on a beach vacation,” he opines. A trip to the zoo or tubing on the Shenandoah River can be just as exciting as a fancy vacation. Plevy believes that children, no matter what their family situation, just want to be with their parents and have fun. Above all, they want to be happy and not feel subject to the tensions that may accompany the end of a marriage. Along these lines, creating new traditions like going to see fireworks on the 4th of July or having a Father’s Day picnic in a park can help make the time they spend with one of their parents special and memorable.
During the school break planning phase, travel is a significant consideration. If a parent plans on taking the children out of the country, passports must be in order and both parents must give their permission for the children to leave the country. Parents should also discuss whether or not to take children to countries that may not be considered safe environments to visit. This could change from the time the plans are made to the time of the actual trip.
Of particular concern are visits to countries that do not recognize the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The Convention seeks to prevent international child abduction and provide a secure legal framework for the return of children who have been abducted in violation of a valid Court Order. If a parent takes a child to a country that does not recognize the Convention, there are no processes in place to require that parent to return the child.
Also, parents need to be sure that anyone taking the child abroad has copies of health insurance and immunization documentation and adequate supplies of medications. SmolenPlevy’s Principal, Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson, believes it’s a simple common courtesy for the non-traveling parent to be given an itinerary of the trip – and often the provision of this information may be part of an Order.
Some other helpful tips include:
• Prepare your child…and yourself. Remind your children that even though they may not see you for several days, you think about them and will miss them but you are happy they can spend time with their other parent. Likewise, take care of yourself when they’re gone by staying busy and treating yourself to something you might not be able to do when the kids are with you.
• Try to keep similar household rules, bedtimes, and routines. If one parent limits video game or cell phone use or only allows desserts for special occasions, it’s helpful to the children if the other parent adheres to comparable rules.
• Involve the kids in the planning but not in the details: it’s fine to ask the children what they may want to do and where they may want to go, but they don’t need to know about who refused or agreed to a certain plan, who is paying for what, etc.
Plevy recommends jointly communicating the plan to the children, once the parents have agreed. This will help them understand that the schedule is something the parents came up with together and the children will have clear expectations of how they will spend their school break. “Confirm transfers in writing,” says Plevy. “A text or email will do. Something as simple as ‘Yes, I agree we’ll meet at the library at 4pm on July 2’ will significantly minimize family tension.”
Keeping their children’s best interests in mind and working together cooperatively will go a long way in helping parents provide their children with a fun, safe and organized summer vacation.