Family

Summer visitation can cause friction between exes: Heft

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Summer vacation parenting time can become a flashpoint in high-conflict separations, says Toronto-area family lawyer Reesa Heft.

Heft, founder and principal of Heft Law, tells AdvocateDaily.com that the less-structured nature of a child’s summer schedule inevitably leads to more contact between warring former partners than during the school year.

“Many divorced parents do their exchanges at school, where one drops off the child, and the other picks up. But during the summer, that can’t happen,” she explains. “That means parents have to interact during exchanges, which is a huge source of potential conflict.

“The average separated couple can usually navigate their way through the summer access schedule, but there are cases where it can be a problem.”

Heft says negotiated separation agreements typically split parenting plans between the regular schedule in place while school is in session, and a separate schedule covering the main holiday periods, including summer, Christmas vacation and March Break. Some get even more granular, covering custody and access on birthdays and other celebrations, such as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, she adds.

“The level of conflict between the parties will usually dictate how much detail you need,” Heft says. “High-conflict cases need an incredible amount of detail, because any time you leave room, someone will take advantage of it.”

She says parents have a range of options for dividing the eight-week break between them, with some splitting the entire period into one- or two-week blocks. Others prefer to continue with the regular schedule through the summer, Heft says, adding that every situation will vary depending on factors including the age of the children and parental preferences.

“There’s less pressure on children in terms of homework, and many schedules will give them plenty of time with both parents,” she says. “Lots of people will do the same thing year after year, like spending a week at the cottage or going to the East Coast.”

Even with an agreement in place, the summer schedule can easily become a source of litigation when tension between the parties boils over, says Heft.

“There are three long weekends in there, which can be a source of contention. People want to take vacations with the children, and there can be issues about travel, consents and passports.

“It’s not unusual to find parties running into court on emergency motions because they’re leaving tomorrow for a booked trip, and the other parent has suddenly revoked their consent or withheld the child’s passport,” she says.

As children age and form their own views about how and where they want to spend their precious time off, it can add another wrinkle to summer plans, Heft says.

“Eight weeks sounds like a long time, but when everyone wants to do something with the children or go away, it can get eaten up quite quickly,” she says.

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