The weather is warmer, flowers are blooming and the last day of school is finally within sight. Those signs all point to the quick beach getaways, weeklong visits with extended family, excursions to amusement parks and camps that come along with summer. If you have children, summer is a busy time of year. Keeping the kids entertained can be tricky – and costly – even under the best of circumstances.
But for divorced parents, the juggling act of custody and childcare can make the “lazy days of summer” hectic and stressful. How can you ensure you and your children enjoy the season? The issues may be complicated, but the solution is simple – plan ahead with an experienced attorney.
Most Orders of Separation and Property Settlement Agreements (SAPS) include a section for summer custody. With legal counsel by your side, you can come to the table with your former spouse and his or her attorney to draft creative approaches to custody that work for everyone involved.
If a judge has decided custody, arrangements involving a primary and secondary custodian will typically give the latter more time during the summer.
That may work with younger children, but as kids get older, they usually become involved in more activities. These activities loom large on a judge’s mind when fashioning summer custody.
From experience, I find that one week on, one week off is the most manageable solution for older children who have their own time commitments.
Contrary to popular belief, a parent who pays child support must continue doing so even if he or she has that child more during the summer. This is often the case in divorces involving one parent who lives out of state.
Unless your attorney can reach an alternate agreement, North Carolina guidelines do not contain any rebate for exercising custody of your children during the summer.
North Carolina authorizes three adjustments to child support: health insurance; work-related daycare costs; and extraordinary expenses.
As most working parents know, childcare costs change during the summer, when there is a switch from after-school care to all-day camps and programs.
If there is a contested hearing, a judge should factor in that shift, or legal counsel, if negotiated through a consent order or SAPS. Although it can be difficult to plan for summer well in advance; it is imperative you are able to provide your attorney with that information.
Another myth is that extracurricular activities count as “extraordinary expenses.”
Still, a parent who receives a set sum for child support might eventually notice the money running thin, as children become increasingly involved in sports, music lessons and other fee-based activities.
Attorneys can negotiate those activities, as well as out-of-state travel costs and camps, outside the courtroom, since a credit or reduced child support requirement often comes down to the particular situation of the parties involved.
You can also seek counsel to file a motion to deviate from N.C. child support rules. The legal argument is that your child’s needs exceed the amount of guideline support and therefore, those guidelines do not apply.
The bottom line – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Addressing these issues a few days before your 13-year-old embarks on a two-week mission trip, for example, is an ineffective – but unfortunately, common approach.
Ill-thought-out, generic consent orders and SAPS can doom parents into expensive and protracted litigation regarding summertime. An experienced attorney can help avoid such headaches and help you focus on what matters most – spending quality time with your children.
Ryan Schultz, partner in the Lea/Schultz Law Firm, is a former corporate investigator now primarily practicing family law and business litigation. He is a member of the prestigious, invitation-only Family Law Council for the State Bar Association and the Alimony Committee for the N.C. Bar Association, as well as the New Hanover County Bar Association, N.C. State Bar Association and the Trial Lawyers of America.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, visit www.theleaschultzlawfirm.com or call (910) 239-5990.