Jun 05

Summer Visitation: How to Make it Fun and Stress-Free for Everyone

Written by: Megan Dell


“What is the divorce law for summer visitation?” is a common question asked during consultations. If you have limited experience with visitation schedules, then you may have no idea how custody arrangements for summer are made.

Like everything else in South Carolina Family Court, determining the schedule for summer vacation is based on the facts of each individual case. Learning about the most common schedules can help you feel more in control when planning your divorce.

father and son in the pool. Father has summer visitation rights after divorce.

When Is “Summer Break” and How Many Weeks Is It?

The definition of summer break can depend on the age(s) of the child(ren) in the family: if none of the children are old enough to be enrolled in school, then the schedule for summer break can be very flexible. As children get older, the school schedule plays a more significant role in defining summer break.

Using School Schedules to Define Summer

On average, summer break is approximately 11 weeks long for public schools in South Carolina.

Schools often post their academic calendars online. Once you find the academic calendar, you can determine the summer break schedule and start planning how you will spend time with your children.

Exceptions might be made based on the needs of the parents or children, but most parenting plans provide the break begins when school is released for summer vacation.

Preparing for Returning to School

Usually summer break also does not include the entire summer. Instead, it is common for a parenting schedule to provide for the child to return to the parent with primary physical custody at least a few days before the new school year begins.

The earlier end time is not intended to hurt one parent or the other. Rather, it allows the children to readjust to their school-year schedule and routines. Though it makes developing a custody schedule more complicated, it makes sense if you are trying to prioritize the children’s best interests.

Mom puts child on a school bus on the first day of school, after summer visitation has gone well.

Summer Custody Schedule Considerations

A summer parenting time schedule is part of a larger parenting plan, and it is affected by other parts of the child custody and visitation order.

Regular, School-Year Schedule

Summer parenting time can vary wildly because the summer break schedule is usually negotiated after the regular schedule for custody and visitation is agreed-upon.

In some cases, the parenting plan will be intended to maximize overnights the children spend with parents while providing stability and consistency during the school year. Summer break provides a chance for the other parent to spend quality time with the children.

Travel Between Parents

A major factor for establishing a parenting schedule is whether the parents live close to each other. When parents live a substantial distance from each other — more than about a 4-hour drive apart — it becomes much more difficult to maintain regular visits between the noncustodial parent and the child. 

The typical summer visitation schedule for these families allows the child to ‘make up’ time with the other parent. It is common for the secondary parent (or noncustodial parent) to have visitation with the children for most of the summer vacation.

Overseas Summer Vacations

In some families, it is common for summer travel plans to include leaving the country and traveling overseas. For trips like this, extended periods of time with the children are often necessary. For those families, a normal visitation schedule for summer will allow the children to spend extended time with each parent.

Deadlines in Your Court Order

Most court orders include deadlines for each parent to notify the other of their summer plans. Pay attention to the deadlines! It makes planning for vacations much easier (and less stressful) for everyone, including your children.

Child of divorce traveling alone, summer visitation

Deviations from the Summer Schedule

There are a few circumstances in which the custody summer calendar must take a backseat to other important events. You should expect any summer visitation schedule to ensure individual, family-specific details are addressed

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is the third Sunday of June every year. South Carolina schools have begun their summer break by then. Almost all summer schedules will allow the children to spend time with their father on Father’s Day, regardless of the underlying schedule for summer parenting time.

Summer School

Occasionally, a child will need to attend summer school to avoid falling behind educationally. If that happens, summer school and custody plans may conflict, but the child’s school attendance must take priority. 

Summer Camps and Other Programs

In some families, a child may have historically attended a specific summer program, day camp, or sleep away camp. Maintaining these traditions can make the divorce less stressful for your child, even if it makes your visitation schedule harder to develop.

Agreement by Parents

In an ideal situation, parents communicate and cooperate well. If you and your ex can coparent effectively, it may be possible to work out a parenting schedule for summer without a court order. However, most family lawyers will advise you to include a “default” summer schedule just in case your coparenting relationship falls apart.

Kids attending summer school, doing work outside

Sample Summer Visitation Schedule Examples

People who are willing to work together can agree on any schedule they might want. But below are some common sample summer custody schedules and some normal summer visitation custody schedules.

Standard Visitation for A Non-Custodial Parent

Everyone going through a divorce wants to know what a “normal summer visitation schedule” or “standard summer visitation schedule” might be.

A standard summer schedule for a non-custodial parent will include at least two weeks with the children and, depending on the specific judge and facts of the case, sometimes as many as four weeks of extended parenting time. With a typical schedule, the non-custodial parent’s alternating weekend or other visits will continue throughout the summer, as well.

However, generally, the parent with primary physical custody is given an opportunity to make summer plans with the child. Often, the custodial parent will be entitled to two weeks of vacation time during the summer months.

50/50 Summer Custody

When each parent is involved in the children’s lives year-round and the parents share joint custody, they may agree to a summer parenting schedule that maintains 50/50 custody during summer.

In some cases, an order may provide for parents to exercise parenting time on alternating weeks throughout the summer. Because of the possibility of international travel, each parent may have a two-week consecutive visit that is prioritized over a regular week-on/week-off schedule. Or, some parents may decide to alternate two-week periods of parenting time throughout the summer.

Long Distance Parents Enjoy Most of the Summer

As described, the distance between the primary location the child lives and the secondary parent has a significant impact on how the summer is divided between parents.

However, regardless of the summer visitation schedule for the secondary parent, the primary parent is usually entitled to a vacation period of at least two consecutive weeks with the children.
A summer calendar is essential to summer visitation planning between coparents

Ideas for Making Summer Visition Summer Vacation Memories

No matter what your arrangement is for child custody during the summer break, there are ways you can make the time with your children memorable:

  1. Plan Ahead
    In some areas, summer childcare options fill up quickly, and if you don’t plan ahead, the camp you want to register your child for will run out of spots before you’ve even thought about it. The same problem can happen if you want to vacation to popular summer destinations. Planning ahead is the key to ensuring you and your children get the most from summer break, especially if you have limited parenting time to take a vacation.
  2. Communicate with Your Coparent
    A court order detailing a summer parenting time schedule likely provides the minimum amount of notice and information you are required to give the other parent. But, often, providing more information can help alleviate worries related to travel and being away from your child for longer periods of time.
  3. Focus on What Kids Like
    Seeing the Greek ruins may seem like a great vacation to you, but being in Greece, in the sun, in July may be misery for your 9 year-old. As you brainstorm ideas for summer vacations, prioritize destinations and activities appropriate for your child’s age and interests.
  4. Be A Tourist in Your Own Town
    Having a memorable vacation doesn’t require traveling! Every place has a history and individual quirks. Identify what those are in your area and plan activities to explore them over a vacation weekend.
  5. Make a Photo Album of Highlights
    We all rely on smart phones to take and store photographs. Instead of letting the memories simply be stored, create a real photo album or scrapbook your child can look at once the vacations are over. (And making the album is even something you can do together!)

Woman on her smart phone, texting and smiling.

Family Lawyers Can Help

Summer visitation for divorced parents doesn’t have to be a source of stress and tension. By adopting a proactive and child-centric approach, parents can create a memorable and enjoyable experience for their children. 

However, navigating the complexities of summer visitation schedules can be overwhelming without the guidance of experienced family lawyers. A lawyer with experience in child custody matters can provide invaluable support to ensure the summer visitation period runs smoothly for you and the other parent.

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