How to plan for the summer when you’re divorcing
Half term’s just finished and the school summer break feels ages away. But if you’re a divorced or separated parent and want your summer to be smooth rather than stormy, you need to think about arrangements for the children now. How to plan for the summer when you’re divorcing is your essential guide to getting organised now!
Whether it’s your first, tenth or fifteenth summer separated from your children’s father, you need to make plans. This can be hard. Summer’s often a time of high emotion particularly when it looks like everyone else is having perfect dream family holidays. You might be feeling guilty that finances are more strapped than they used to be, or that the children won’t get to spend time with their parents together.
If that’s you, remember two things:
- those lovely filtered Instagram posts hide a multitude of arguments, sulks and stand-offs – no family set-up is perfect 100% of the time
- the number one thing that matters to children is love and security from their parents. Surveys of children show time after time that they are happier with separated-and-peaceful rather than together-and-warring parents.
So ditch the guilt, now. And keep reminding yourself that your children are the number one priority, not power plays with your soon-to-be-ex-husband.
Put some time into this now, and approach the summer with fun, not fear.
Do you have a Child Arrangement Order?
If you have a Child Arrangement Order in place it may set out the agreement for childcare over summer holidays. If you are happy with this, then you’re all set.
The order makes it clear who is responsible for what, so you and your soon-to-be-ex-husband can make plans accordingly, and let your child(ren) know what is happening in good time. Start communication with your him now, so there is plenty of time to ensure there are no surprises or crossed wires.
If you want to change an aspect of the order, now is the time to act. Think about what you would like to change and why. It’s far better to agree changes to the order in advance rather than breach the terms because they no longer suit you.
What happens if you breach a Child Arrangement Order?
If you breach the order your soon-to-be-ex-husband has the right to make an enforcement application to the court. The court will take into account the circumstances of the breach, how frequently breaches have occurred and whether the breach could be considered reasonable.
If the breach is considered reasonable, there may be no further action. However, if a breach is considered unreasonable, the court may issue penalties in addition to an order to comply.
You may receive a fine, changes to the terms of the Child Arrangement Order in your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s favour, and in rare cases, imprisonment. In all cases the courts will consider the impact on your children and aim to impose sanctions that do not in turn punish them. But anything that takes time (a community work order or imprisonment) or money (fines) away from you is likely to affect your children too.
So breaches of court orders are a bad idea. They are likely to cost you money, damage your relationship with your soon-to-be-ex-husband further and can negatively affect both you and your children.
If you are unhappy with the terms of your Child Arrangement Order, think about why. What is it about the current arrangements that are no longer appropriate? Is it something you can live with or is it something that does need to change?
If you decide that changes are needed, discuss this with your soon-to-be-ex-husband and apply to vary the order now. This will give you the chance to get summer plans in place in good time.
Do you have a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement, not enforceable by courts. If you have already created a plan with your soon-to-be-ex-husband, it’s likely you will have considered arrangements for school holidays. If you’ve not taken a look at your parenting plan recently, now’s the time to check.
Are the arrangements you’ve agreed still appropriate? If your circumstances have changed (maybe a new job or new partner) it may be that you can no longer follow the arrangements you had in place. If this is the case for you, now is the time to open negotiations with your soon-to-be-ex-husband, rather than leave it until the week before the schools break up.
How to reach a new agreement
If communication with your soon-to-be-ex-husband is heated, it can be difficult to make changes to arrangements without escalating tempers. Here are some tips to keep communication calm:
- Stick to the facts. Be clear about the changes you would like, and give a basic soon-to-be-ex-husband an explanation of why. Be logical. Don’t let past hurts or wrongs come into it.
- Put the children first. Explain how the changes are in your children’s best interests. It might be that you need to change timings around new work hours so your children still see you, or it might be they get an opportunity to go away that would otherwise be missed. Make it clear how the children will benefit from your proposals.
- Pause. Don’t fight fire with fire. If they respond with anger or pettiness, give yourself a break before replying. Remember the bigger picture: this is about getting the best arrangements in place for your children, not winning an argument.
If discussions with your soon-to-be-ex-husband are getting you nowhere, it’s time to bring in some support.
How can family mediation help?
A trained mediator can help you and your soon-to-be-ex-husband communicate effectively. A mediator will help you establish priorities, set common goals and ensure you are putting your children first. When you work with a mediator it is easier to keep the heat out of the conversation and resolve discussions rather than spin off into arguments and finger-pointing. It also means you can leave the conversation with a clear record of what was agreed, witnessed by someone impartial.
If you want to establish summer plans for you and your children or change existing ones, working with a mediator is a smart course of action. The government and courts recognise that they should be the last port of call in family arrangements, so will look for evidence that you and your soon-to-be-ex-husband have already tried to reach agreement yourselves.
If you need to go to court
If communication has broken down and mediation hasn’t helped, seeking a court order to agree holiday plans may be your only option.
The courts will put your children at the centre of their decision-making. Courts have a guiding principle that it is in the best interests of children to have access to both parents unless there is a good reason not to.
So you will need to be flexible and consider how you can share your children’s time. It is likely that you will need to compromise. Think about all holiday planning within the court order – Christmas and other school holidays too. This will save you hassle in the longer term – Christmas is only half a year away!
Get the support you need
Making plans for your future, and your children’s future, is hard work. It’s draining and can be confusing as you untangle your own hurt and sense of loss from what’s best for them, and what you want out of the years to come. Then you need to tackle the issues of communication with your soon-to-be-ex-husband, and getting the outcome that’s right for you and the children.
That’s where I come in.
A coaching session gives you space. Space to acknowledge what’s going on for you, space to vent, space to work out what you really want and need for you and your children.
And more than that, together we’ll come up with strategies to help you move forward. You’ll find the confidence to talk to your soon-to-be-ex-husband and your solicitor clearly, saving a whole heap of money and stress.
Then you can get on with making the most of summer.
The Divorce Alchemist
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a practising family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com