by Brette Sember
It’s here – summer. Kids dream of it all year. Often the highlight of the summer for kids and parents is a family vacation. When you’re divorced or separated, family vacations can be more complicated. You’ve got a parenting plan to work around and an ex to deal with. Follow these tips to make sure summer vacations live up to their potential.
Plan ahead.In many situations, each parent is entitled to a chunk of uninterrupted vacation time with the child. It’s essential that you coordinate with each other and not make any firm reservations until you’ve cleared the dates with the other parent. The last thing you want to have happen is for both of you to pre-pay for a trip for the same dates. If your ex is being evasive and won’t agree, put your request in writing (keep a copy and send it certified mail) so there can be no confusion. Give him or her several days to respond and if you get no answer, plan your trip.
Be sensitive to important events. In the world of visitation, a summer vacation takes precedence over regularly scheduled vacation, however when planning your trip try to take special events into account.
For example, planning your vacation over Father’s Day weekend or your ex’s birthday will not only likely violate your court order, but be hurtful to your child and ex. Arranging a trip that falls during your child’s baseball playoffs is also not the best choice. There are a lot of factors to take into account, so think through all the possibilities. Sometimes you’re very limited as to when you can go and compromises will have to be made.
Arrange for contact. When your child travels with you or your ex, it’s important that there be ongoing contact with the parent not on the trip. For young children, make arrangements for phone calls or Skype (if Internet access is available). Older children often take the reins when it comes to staying in touch with the other parent, but may forget in the midst of the excitement, so a few reminders are useful. It’s also just nice to help your young child send a postcard to the other parent or even bring home a small souvenir for him or her.
Share itineraries. Whether your court order requires it or not, it’s a good idea to share travel plans with each other. This helps the parent who is at home feel more connected to the child who is gone, and is also simply a good idea for safety reasons. If you aren’t comfortable giving your ex names and phone numbers of hotels, at least share general locations.
Get it in writing. If your court order requires permission from the other parent to travel with the child or go out of state, cover your bases and get it in writing. The last thing you want is to have your vacation interrupted by an ex who has suddenly changed his or her mind.
Maximize your time. Use your family vacation time for activities your child will enjoy. You only get a limited amount of travel time, so make the most of it. This is not the trip when you want to spend your days alone in the spa or head out for adult fun at night.
Pack wisely. Make sure you have your child’s passport (if she has one and you will be leaving the country), her health insurance card, necessary medications, and a copy of your custody order in case there is any question. If your ex gave written permission for the trip, bring that along.
Be respectful of your ex’s vacation time. Do your best to allow your ex a good family vacation as well. A lot of custodial parents feel anxiety at the thought of their child going away with the ex for a week or more. Remind yourself that the time together will be good for them and will allow them to have shared experiences. It’s sink or swim time and almost all non-custodial parents are going to swim.
Get contact information, but try not to call more than once a day (or less). It’s ok to ask a few pointed questions (if there’s a pool, does your ex have water wings packed; if it’s a sunny location, does he understand how often to apply sunscreen; does he know not to leave your child alone in a hotel room, etc.). It’s also ok to pack a little care package for your child (sunscreen, allergy meds in case, a little toy, a book, and so on).
Keep yourself busy. When your child is away with your ex, use this as “me” time to do all sorts of things you’ve never had time for. Go to the spa, get some gardening done, hang out with friends, clean your closet, or go on a couples getaway with your new flame.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest (Sourcebooks), and The Complete Divorce Handbook (Sterling). Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.