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Child Custody Arrangements for the Summer Vacation in Massachusetts
The long summer school break, nine weeks of it, is rapidly approaching. No doubt kids have been looking forward to this particular summer break for good reason. The pandemic put a damper on any kind of summer fun last year, but things, while still not exactly back to normal, are looking brighter than they have been for more than a year.
Having a family vacation with one’s kids always takes some planning. In fact, even if you don’t plan to get away too much, the fact is that without some planning, those nine weeks are going to seem a heck of a long time.
For some parents, a looming divorce, or life after a divorce, can put an even greater pressure on them. Planning child custody arrangements over summer is going to be different from the usual arrangements that have been in place the rest of the year.
Massachusetts rules about summer child custody arrangements
There are no specific rules in Massachusetts which guide divorce parents about what to do about child custody arrangements over the summer. The arrangements must be part of the overall custody plan which has either been amicably agreed to by both parents before divorce or has been decided by the Probate & Family court. As with all arrangements for the children of divorcing parents, the court decisions are made in the best interests of the children. Child custody planning must decide on a whole custody package, which includes who is legally responsible for the children, who is to be responsible for physical custody, what visitation rights are granted, and whether there is to be spousal and child support payments.
Legal and physical custody explained
Legal custody is the legal responsibility a parent has to make important decisions about a child’s welfare, including their education and health, as well as their emotional, moral and religious development. This can be either shared by both parents or become the sole responsibility of one of the parents.
Physical custody is the day to day care of the child, who the child lives with and spends most of their time with. Like legal custody, this can be shared by both parents or become the responsibility of just one parent.
The summer break arrangements must take into account the decisions that have been made about legal and physical custody, which in turn have been determined after taking into account the relationship between each of the children and their individual parents, whether there are special concerns about one of the parents, such as their mental state or abusive behavior. The distance between the separated parents must also be taken into account, as well as the relative differences in free time that each parent might have between mid June and the 23rd August when school starts up again.
Parenting time and visitation
Parenting time is best decided by the two parents themselves, by talking through possibilities and coming to a joint, amicable agreement. Sometimes, this is impossible, or just too difficult, and the Probate & Family court may have to make the decision. Parenting time is the time allotted to the parent who does not have physical custody of the child(ren). There are many different plans possible. Shared physical custody, for instance, may make decisions about parenting time unnecessary.
When it comes to making arrangements for the summer break, the usual weekly plan may have to be altered. For example, let’s say there is a shared custody arrangement in place which allows each parent to have the kids live with them around 50% of them time. Maybe one parent has them for a week, then the other parent has them for the second week and so on. Perhaps the kids can stay with one parent for half of the summer break and then the other parent could have the kids for the second half.
The actual amount of parenting time over the nine week school break will probably be determined to reflect the relative custody periods allocated to each parent. The 50/50 arrangement given as an example above would be in parallel to a shared custody arrangement in which each parent looks after the kids for 50% of the time. Similarly, an arrangement in which the primary caregiver normally has the children for the weekdays, while the other parent has them for the weekends, a 70/30 arrangement, could be paralleled in summer with a similar percentage of time allocated to each parent.
The court will endeavor to allow children to maintain a quality relationship with both parents. If they stay with one parent for most of the time with only brief parenting time allocated to the non custodial parent, this might be amended for the summer break to allow this parent more time with the children to keep the relationship flourishing.
The point is that the court will ultimately have to decide what the normal custody arrangement should be for the kids, as well as what should be the arrangement over the school summer break and other vacation periods, if the two parents cannot come to an amicable arrangement by themselves, or if the court suspects that whatever arrangement parents suggest is unworkable and not necessary in the best interests of the children.
Making decisions prior to and after divorce
Child custody arrangements need to be settled before divorce, whether by mutual agreement or by decision by the family court. An agreement is more urgent if the two parents are already living apart, with one or more of the children living with one of the parents. Without an agreement on child custody arrangements it is likely that there could be arguments about custody and visitation rights that would ultimately only harm the children. Making decisions about child custody is not the only difficult aspect of separating as there are often equally challenging decisions to be made about shared assets, the family home, if there is one, and spousal and child support arrangements.
Even after a divorce has taken place, it will be important that the two parents have made arrangements to maintain satisfactory ways to communicate about the ongoing welfare and custody of their children.
It is vital that spouses who have made up their minds to go through with a divorce seek sympathetic legal help from a family law attorney if they cannot come to a satisfactory agreement about all these decisions.