Family playing on the beach.Schools out, summer is here, now what? Co-parenting with your ex can be hard enough throughout the school year, but when summer starts it can bring a whole new set of challenges for parents to face. Summer in North Carolina is hot already, so to avoid turning the thermometer up, take these small proactive steps to reduce those challenges and help you remain cool this summer.

Plan Ahead by checking your Custody Document or creating a Summer Parenting Schedule

If you and your child’s other parent have an existing Court Order or Agreement addressing summer parenting time, place that schedule into a shared calendar if you haven’t already done so. There are many resources available that allow multiple people to view and edit a calendar such as Google, Cozi and Our Family Wizard. And, to keep things as easy as possible, many calendars allow for color coding for each child and their activities. Using a shared calendar system is a great way to stay organized and to keep every family member “in the loop” without having to have daily conversations with them.

Be sure you are reviewing your Court Order early because many agreements may require you to notify the other parent of any chosen summer vacation weeks by a certain date – often as early as April. No one wants to miss their planned trip to the beach with the family because they missed a deadline. Planning early with your child’s other parent is essential, not only for peace of mind, but to prevent anyone from missing those YMCA camp deadlines or summer baseball league sign-ups. Remember, planning now may save you from a heat stroke later.

Decide Who Plans What by first reviewing your Court Order or Agreement

Generally, these documents strive to clearly define which parent makes “major” decisions for your children; this is also known as “legal custody.” The term legal custody refers to decisions typically related to your children’s education, religion, medical needs and often who has the authority to decide what the children are doing for the summer. It is important to understand your decision-making power in general, but also when it comes to arranging summer plans. If you are without a custody document, now is the time to try to reach an agreement with your child’s other parent. If you have not started the process of creating a formal agreement, contact an experienced attorney or a parenting coordinator to help navigate these sometimes-heated conversations with your ex. With the help of your attorney, you can decide not only what schedule is best for your children, but also which decisions are important to you.

Ultimately, identifying what the priorities are will enable both parents to figure out where there is room for compromise. For example, if you really want to send your child to several weeks of swim lessons but your ex is determined to enroll them in science camp, try to reach a compromise so that each of you can select at least one appropriate summer activity that the other doesn’t get to complain about (so long as that activity doesn’t interfere with previously agreed-upon summer plans or the other parent’s parenting time). When deciding what activities your children are going to participate in this summer, remember to consider who will be handling the transportation and finances.

Determine Who Is Paying for What and How by referring to your Order or Agreement

When computing child support in North Carolina, some payments consider or anticipate “work-related childcare costs” such as the YMCA camp your children attend every year or, “extraordinary expenses” such as summer tutoring or Kumon. If you aren’t sure if your monthly child support payment includes these pro-rated expenses, be sure to thoroughly review your child support document and the supporting documents used to arrive at your monthly child support payment which can include either a child support worksheet and/or a financial affidavit. It is easy to break into a sweat when discussing finances and especially summer expenses with your ex, so consult an attorney if needed.

If you do not have set child support payments, be sure to get educated on your options. Then, discuss with your ex how you would like to handle these sorts of expenses each year. There are risks and benefits associated with any decision regarding child support. For example, if you do not want to check-in with your ex every time a registration fee comes up or the children need new equipment, a child support award that includes these anticipated expenses is likely the best option. Alternatively, if you and your ex get along and communicate well with one another then you can consider a percentage share option, which typically allows for a more accurate sharing of expense. If you want to get really crazy, how about a joint checking account that you both fund for these purposes? No matter how you and your ex decide how to handle these expenses, be sure to track every expense you incur as well as payments you receive from the other parent, no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time. Though it may seem trivial, those records will almost always prove invaluable to you when sitting at the bargaining table or in the courtroom.

Try Your Best to be Flexible by remembering how much your children need both of you in their lives

While your Custody Order or Agreement should always be your first line of defense, just like a good SPF during these hot summer days, it is okay to be flexible. We all know how to push our ex’s buttons. Whether you are a newly-separated couple or veteran divorcees, repeated attempts to compete with your ex or make them sweat will not likely serve the best interests of your children – or you.

If you’re feeling the heat of co-parenting this summer – don’t sweat it! Use these helpful hints to avoid unnecessary and unneeded heat strokes. Once you do, you will most hopefully see the benefits of presenting a united front for your children and the only heat you’ll feel this summer will be from the sun.