This article was written by Hance Law Group associate attorney Jonathan James.
In my previous article, we looked at the rules around summer parenting time in Texas, as laid out in the standard and expanded parenting plans that are in many Texas divorce decrees. In this article, I wanted to look at where conflicts can arise, how those can be resolved, what alternatives exist, and how couples can use their computers and smartphones to better navigate their parenting time schedules.
Confusion about the rules is a major contributor to conflicts over summer parenting time. One parent might realize in May – past the April deadlines but as summer vacation really is approaching – that he or she is missing out on days that he or she is entitled to, and approaches the other parent about those.
In these cases, it’s best for the parents to negotiate, to try to be flexible, and to communicate (either via email or with an email confirming what was said), so they can get on the same page and resolve any confusion over contested days.
If one parent feels that he or she is being deprived of parenting time that legally should be his or hers, it is possible to take the matter to court. But judges don’t own time machines, and it’s more likely that a case about parenting time would be heard after the disputed days have passed, even if, for example, your lawyer attempts to get on the docket in May to discuss dates in July or August. If a case is ruled your favor after the fact, you might be awarded makeup time, the judge may order your ex to pay your attorney’s fees, and you might even granted be financial compensation if the dispute impacted a vacation involving airfare and hotel costs. But the case could also be found in your ex’s favor; it’s ultimately up to the judge.
Disputes can come up due to changes that you might have not anticipated when you drafted the decree. Let’s say, for example, that at the time of your divorce, you have two children who are both in the same public school, and their summer vacation starts and ends on the same day. Now let’s say that, several years later, one child enrolls in a private school or charter school that starts a week later than the public school.
By the letter of the law, you’d need to assess summer vacation dates for each individual child, but it’s more practical to agree on one date for all your children. If you can’t agree on a date, and your decree doesn’t stipulate one default day, it might require a judge to sort it out.
Obviously, the more specific you can be in the decree, the better – but if something does come up that’s not specifically addressed in the decree, it’s usually more cost-effective and time-effective to work out the matter with your ex rather than take it to court.
Some parents will dispense with the default summer calendar and schedule shorter blocks of time, including extending weekends to include Thursday and Sunday nights, to more closely mirror what the schedule looks like during the school year. Some parents will opt for a weekly schedule, in which parents alternate parenting time with exchanges happening Sunday at 6 p.m. That’s a good solution for those parents scheduling summer camps and week-long vacations, which might be more manageable options for working parents.
No matter what parents schedule, I recommend that they utilize online tools to help them get organized. A simple Google Calendar, shared between both parents, is a free, easy way to keep track of parenting time.
Parents might also consider Our Family Wizard, which exists as both a website and a mobile app, which is specifically designed for divorced parents to coordinate parenting time, log expenses for reimbursable medical expenses, and share health information. It’s a tool that I’ve seen courts start to order for parents in divorce and post-divorce dispute settlements.
Summer can be an important time for a parent and his or her divorced children to connect and make memories. To focus on that, it requires both parents to be content with the summer calendar, and communication and negotiation are keys to making the most of parenting time, rather than fighting over it.