“Summertime, and the living is easy.” Whoever first penned those words wasn’t a recently divorced parent with kids, who has a limited amount of vacation time, custody issues, and an ex-spouse who may or may not be cooperative with their plans. If you are a divorced parent with hopes of making great summer travel memories with your kids, planning, perhaps far in advance, is key. There are a number of things you should think about when planning for summer vacation with your child after divorce.
Scheduling life with kids can be a challenge when the whole family is living under one roof. It gets more complicated when the parents no longer live together, and the complexity goes up still another notch when routines get disrupted, as they do with summer vacations.
Vacations are a great opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your children. If you’re visiting an old favorite vacation spot, like the cabin that’s been in your family for generations, it’s a chance to experience something beloved and familiar in the midst of all the other changes your family has gone through. If you’re going someplace you’ve never been, you have the chance to create new memories and traditions. But whatever you do, the earlier you can plan, the better.
The best time to start planning for summer vacation after divorce is, if possible, before your divorce. That way, you can put provisions in your settlement agreement that clarify everyone’s rights and responsibilities around summer travel. Many parents, for instance, have a provision in their agreements that they will inform the other parent of their summer travel plans for the children by a certain date.
If your children do not live with you most of the time, your divorce decree or parenting plan may specify that you will have the children for two weeks or some other uninterrupted span of time during the summer, but it may not specify the dates. Clarifying as early as possible with your co-parent when you want to take your vacation with the kids will increase the chances that your desired weeks are available. It also makes life easier on your co-parent, so that he or she can plan vacation times, too.
If you are planning to take your children out of the country, especially to visit family overseas, make sure you have done everything necessary to smooth the way for this. Make sure each child has a valid passport and that you have access to it, preferably before the day of your departure. Few things are worse than going to pick up your children and their passports for a trip, only to be told by your ex that the passports were “misplaced.”
Also, if your divorce decree says that you need court approval or the other parent’s approval in writing before traveling out of the country with your children, secure that written approval as far in advance as possible. And decide in advance how often and how the children will touch base with the parent who is at home. Depending on the children’s ages and needs, daily phone calls or texts twice a week might be appropriate.
Packing for vacations requires extra planning, too, of course. Unless your children have duplicate wardrobes at home with each parent, you run the risk of leaving behind something important unless you plan ahead. You can always buy an extra pair of swim goggles at Target if your child forgot hers, but certain things are harder to replace, like a favorite toy or comfort object. Make a packing list with your child to make sure you don’t forget anything essential.
Bear in mind the reason you are taking your vacation: to build your relationship with your children. Especially in the first few years after divorce, your vacation plans should be more about their needs than what you want to do. Notice that we said their needs, not their wants; your children may want a trip to Disneyland or a costly beach vacation, but exotic surroundings aren’t needed to make a vacation positive and memorable. What your kids need most is time to reconnect with you in a relaxed setting, especially if they don’t live with you most of the time.
That also means you may want to put limits on screen time so that you can focus on each other—and those limits should apply to you, not just to them. It’s too easy to default to being on a phone or a tablet if you’re bored, so plan to do things together, even if it’s just a walk on the beach, playing a board game, or a trip to the ice cream stand.
If you are the parent left at home while the kids are traveling with your co-parent, there’s a role for you, too. Your children’s happiness will be increased if you are enthusiastic about their trip. Listen eagerly to their stories, and look at their pictures of their adventures. Never make them feel as if they should feel bad or guilty for leaving you behind. Soon enough, you’ll be heading off on your own adventures together.
If you have legal questions about Utah child custody or making summer vacation plans for your children, please contact Barton Wood to schedule a consultation.