An article in today's Washington Post suggests that children of divorced couples fare better in a joint physical custody arrangement over an arrangement where they spend more time with one parent. The study was of mostly children aged 12 to 15 years. The data was gathered in self-reported questionnaires by the youths. Other factors, such as socio-economic status, were not captured and may have also contributed to the children's health.
Earlier this month we posted about summer planning for divorced parents. But what if you and your spouse are not yet divorced, how do you plan for your summer vacation?
If you are represented by an attorney, then you should contact your attorney and discuss summer planning. They can contact opposing counsel or the opposing party and help you and your spouse arrive at a summer schedule. Remember that whatever summer schedule you have this year may or may not be your summer schedule post divorce.
Most counties enter an order at the beginning of any new domestic relations case. Some counties call it a Domestic Standing Order and others call it a Mutual Restraining Order. Review that order carefully. It generally has provisions regarding traveling with the children. Some counties prohibit traveling outside the state with the kids without permission from the other parent and in other counties, travel is permitted but only for a specific duration.
Regardless, the children will be out of school and you will need to ensure they are properly supervised while both of you are at work. Contact the other parent and schedule some time to talk about summer vacations, summer camps and summer day care for the kids. Plan a time to meet to review options. Unless you are barred by a protective order, consider meeting in a coffee shop or other public place particularly if there are allegations of violence, etc. If you live far from each other, consider setting up a telephone call, Skype or Facetime.
Before discussing plans with your spouse, do a little pre-planning. Review the list from our other summer planning blog post. You shoudl bring the following items to your planning meeting with your spouse: your kids' school calendar for this year and next year, bring your own calendar which has both personal and work obligations, nanny/babysitter availability and information regarding summer camps. We recommend scheduling this meeting to occur in March as many summer camps fill up before the end of April.
Although summer is months away (and we are experiencing another winter chill), it is time to start planning for summer. If you are divorced, now is the time to review your settlement agreement or final order in your divorce for summer holidays and summer break visitation schedules. Typically, parents need to elect their summer weeks in the spring. Here are a few things you should consider doing this month:
- Review your settlement agreement/ parenting plan/ final order for summer visitation and summer holidays. If it is unclear, contact your attorney or go talk to an attorney ASAP.
- School schedule. Go online and look at your children's school calendar. When are they released from school? When do they return to school?
- Call your family and friends and find out their summer schedule. Is your family planning a special trip this summer? Do your parents want to see their grand kids the last week in June or the second week in July? Does your sister want you to meet up with her and her kids at Disney? Do you plan on attending your high school reunion this summer? Does your new boyfriend/girlfriend want to take a couples only cruise this summer? Determine your family obligations before electing your summer vacation dates.
- Summer camps and other day care alternatives. Investigate summer camps for your kids for the weeks your kids are on vacation but you have to work. How much does the camp cost? Are you supposed to get OK from your ex before enrolling them in summer camp? Is the other parent responsible for all summer camp costs? What are the camp registration deadlines? Are your parents coming for a week to care for the children for a week?
- Passports. If you plan to travel outside the United States this summer, do your kids have their passports? Are they current? If they do not have passports, have you checked the requirements on the State Department's website? Both parents have to consent for a minor's passport.
- Communicate. Contact the other parent and discuss your plans. Make sure you provide the other parent with your elected dates for summer visitation on or before the deadline in your agreement. And if there is no deadline in your agreement, then as soon as possible.
There was an interesting segment today on NPR's Morning Edition on a father's rights group leading the charge to change custody laws. The group wants to change the laws so that courts are more likely to grant joint physical custody. Joint physical custody is when the child/children spend equal time with each parent.
Joint physical custody can take many forms in a daily schedule. For example, a parent has one week with the kids and the next week the kids are with the other parent. In that type of scenario, the change in custody occurs only once per week usually after school on Fridays or at the beginning of the week on Monday morning. This is popular when there is friction between the parents as it minimizes the number of times the parents interact. The change in custody can occur at the end of an activity so that the parents do not have to see each other-- the child is dropped off at soccer practice by one parent and the other parent picks up the child.
Another popular schedule is 2-2-5-5 as shown in the graphic above. In the table, M is for Mother and F is for Father. This schedule works well for parents who travel out of town for work on some days of the week. It is also helpful when a child consistently has a specific activity on a certain day of the week where one parent is more involved in that activity (for example, if the child always has Math Team on Tuesdays and Mother is the coach) or when one parent's schedule is more flexible to allow the child to participate in an activity (for example, when child has a dance class that starts at 4pm on Thursdays and Father works from home on Thursdays and has a bit more flexibility on those afternoons).
When we advise clients on joint physical custody, we discuss a few factors:
- Age of the children
- Children's special needs
- Distance between parents
- Distance between each parent and the children's school and extra-curricular events
- The ability and interest of each parent to set up a household that mirrors the other home so that children have similar toys and sufficient clothing at each home.
- Parent's work schedules
- Parent's ability to cooperate and communicate with one another
Regardless of how well joint physical custody may work for parents, Georgia courts award custody based on the child's best interests. If you think that joint physical custody may be what is best for your child, discuss it with your attorney.