Editor’s Note: The article below is not legal advice, and is the interpretation of the author.
Dividing up vacation time in the summer can be a struggle for many separated families, especially when distance is a factor. We spoke with Courtney Smith of Smith Legal Group, LLC in Chesterton regarding her advice for separated or divorced parents on how to divide up vacation time while focusing on a child’s or children’s best interests at heart.
Smith shared that many separated or divorced parents follow the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. These guidelines revolve around prioritizing the child’s interests through recurring, meaningful time spent with each parent. Generally, the guidelines are available for those parents who cannot agree and need or request a set of standards to retain.
Specifically, the guidelines outline that after age 3, the non-custodial parent receives half of the summer as their parenting time. Examples of this may include a week on and a week off, every other two weeks with every other weekend, or half of the summer with every other weekend.
Smith recommends that for children aged 3-7, parents implement a ‘2-2-5’ schedule where one parent gets the child/children on Monday and Tuesday and the other parent gets the child/children on Wednesday and Thursday, and then the weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) are split to be spent with one parent every other weekend. The benefit of this schedule is that the child or children are never with the same parent for more than 5 days.
“Younger kids tend to miss their other parent and they get nervous that they’re going to be away for a long time,” said Smith. “I don’t recommend splitting up the summer half and half until kids are older, unless distance is a significant factor.”
No matter the child’s age, consistency is extremely important in scenarios of dividing time in separated families, as well.
“It’s important to keep the child enrolled in what they’re accustomed to. For example, if mom or dad always coached football and they don’t live in the same town anymore, they should still have the child enroll in what they’re accustomed to and continue to be on that football team with mom or dad as their coach. Don’t ever make the child suffer because the parents decided to go their separate ways,” she said.
This idea also applies to family traditions.
“If a child grew up going to church on Christmas Eve and spending the day with one side of the family, that tradition should continue in the best interest of the child until those parties are no longer involved. You need to put the traditions of your children first – always,” Smith said.
Give-and-take plays an essential role in the co-parenting process. Alternating every other year is one way Smith suggests splitting up holiday time so that a child or children are still able to live as regularly as possible.
One way other family members and friends can help ease the stresses of this operation is by offering to carpool or help with transportation when it comes to a child’s or children’s summer activities.
Because the aim of this process is to keep the child or children’s best interests at heart, it is crucial for parents to be aware of what they’re saying when their children are near.
“Some parents are unaware of the effects of arguing about parenting time in front of their kids,” Smith said. “The kids hear it; the kids feel it. It’s unnerving to them because they assume the argument is about them, rather than the parents just not getting along and wanting their way.”
If the court has not yet been engaged in a case of separation or divorce, the Indiana standard is to always do what is best for the child orchildren and not make it uncomfortable for them.
“I tell my clients to think about it as a partnership rather than an ex-romantic relationship. You’re now parenting partners, and it’s important to treat the arrangement as such without involving messy feelings,” said Smith. “Take yourself out of the emotional circle and think to yourself, ‘If I were at work and my boss were watching, how would I handle this?’”
Smith explained that respect plays a big factor when co-parenting.
“Even when you don’t agree with the other parent, you should still be able to listen and communicate effectively for the sake of your children. If you’re unable to respond in the moment, calmly explain that you’ll think about it and get back to them,” said Smith. “It’s perfectly okay to step away when you need to. Conflict resolution doesn’t always have to happen the first time around. Communication is key.”
In terms of available support networks, Smith recommends co-parenting counseling and family counseling.
“I really believe strongly in counseling in these situations because everyone’s personality is so different. Sometimes all it takes is someone with an outside perspective to help both parties see that they both just want what is best for their kids,” she said.
To learn more about the resources offered and how Smith Legal Group, LLC can help your family this summer, please visit https://www.smithlg.com/index.php/resources/.