Summer is when many of us create some of the best memories with our children. For divorced parents who have limited custody during school months, summer visitation can provide an excellent opportunity to extend visits and spend quality time with their children. It also allows for children to maintain a loving relationship with both parents after a divorce.
Parents typically follow a child custody order issued by the court during the divorce. However, if your current child custody order does not suit your summer visitation needs, you can request to have it amended, but you must plan ahead to ensure sufficient time to negotiate a modification and potentially file a motion with the court to address the issue. Discuss your plans with the other parent well in advance of the summer days. If you and the other parent cannot come to an agreement, you will need to file a mo-tion with the court, which in Los Angeles will take up to 60 days.
Working Together for a Seamless Summer Visitation
When planning summer visits, parents should work together to decide how the weeks will be divided so that both parents have an opportunity to create memories with their children, and so that extracurricular activities don’t get in the way. For example, one parent might not want to forfeit one week of his or her four-week summer visitation to send the child to a sleepaway camp. Or if the child wants to attend a day camp, the parents might want to consider a camp closer to the home of the noncustodial parent, in order to minimize travel time.
The child’s emotional well-being should be a priority. If the child will be with a noncustodial parent for an extended period of time during the summer, it might be best to have the custodial parent visit once a week or every other weekend. Young children often find it difficult to go for several weeks without seeing a parent they are accustomed to viewing as a primary caretaker. If physical visits aren’t possible, regular phone calls, email or video chats can help with homesickness.
If your divorce or custody matter is still pending, then the summer schedule needs to be reduced to a stipulation — a written agreement that is agreed upon by both parties, then submitted to the judge. Once the judge approves the stipulation, it becomes enforceable by law until the divorce is settled and the child custody order is made final.
Planning Summer Visitation for the Foreseeable Future
If you are currently in a divorce proceeding, now is the time to make sure future summer schedules are laid out in a judgment of dissolution of marriage or paternity judgment. It should include the types of extracurricular activities both parents agreed upon and how they will be paid. For instance, most child custody orders outline that activities will be paid for equally by each parent. However, your court order should include protocol for selecting extracurricular activities. You wouldn’t want to be in a situation where you’re paying half for an extracurricular activity that you don’t agree with or that takes over some of your custodial time. To avoid this, your court order should state that the parents will equally share extracurricular activities that are mutually agreed-upon. The order should further state that neither parent shall unreasonably withhold their consent to an activity.
Once the summer arrangements have been made, make sure to keep open communication with the other parent about travel plans and itineraries. In fact, if you are planning to travel internationally with your child, make sure to have a certified copy of your judgment on hand. As an added precautionary measure, get a letter of permission from the other parent outlining the travel dates and have it notarized, even if you and your child are traveling during your visitation time. While a bona fide copy of the custody order may show that you are legally allowed to be with your child, a notarized letter safeguards that you have permission from the other parent to not only travel with the child, but that the other parent has also agreed to the full travel itinerary.
Your Summer Visitation Requests Not a Guarantee
It’s also important to note that the court may not honor all requests, which is why parents should seek permission before making travel arrangements. We represented a client whose ex-husband wanted to travel with the children to a country known to be unsafe, and the court granted our motion and denied the ex-husband travel to that country with the children.
If communication is an uphill battle with the other parent, there are websites to help facilitate communication between divorced parents such as www.ourfamilywizard.com and talkingparents.com. Extracurricular activities during vacation schedules can be posted, and medical and school information can be shared. Keep in mind that these communications are subject to review by judges and mental health experts appointed to the case. That means, keep your communication respectful and professional in nature.
Casey Marticorena is Partner and Don Schweitzer is Founder and Partner of the Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer, a Pasadena family law firm with specialized attorneys experienced in all areas of family law and estate planning, supported by today’s most advanced legal resources. For more information, visit www.pasadenalawoffice.com.