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One of the most challenging aspects for divorced parents figuring out the parenting plan is how summer parenting time works. It’s designed to help bring the time children spend with each parent closer to a 50/50 ratio, while also allowing each parent to have significant enough blocks of time to schedule family vacations and/or full weeks of summer camp.

It’s also, importantly, designed for parents to have plenty of time to plan summer activities – requiring the possessory conservator (per the Texas Family Code’s language) to submit a request well in advance of summer. The first part of the law governing this, for parents who operate under standard orders, states that when the possessory conservator gives written notice to the managing conservator by April 1 of that year, he or she:

shall have possession of the child for 30 days beginning not earlier than the day after the child’s school is dismissed for the summer vacation and ending not later than seven days before school resumes at the end of the summer vacation, to be exercised in not more than two separate periods of at least seven consecutive days each, with each period of possession beginning and ending at 6 p.m. on each applicable day.

This allows each parent to have at least a week at a time, and the “no more than two separate periods” means that there’s not excessive back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s house.

There’s also a default written into the law, stating that if the possessory conservator doesn’t submit a request by April 1, “the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child for 30 consecutive days beginning at 6 p.m. on July 1 and ending at 6 p.m. on July 31.” This guarantees an easy to remember, specific block of time, so there’s no ambiguity.

There is one caveat to this, though, and it’s best to just list the language as stated in the Texas Family Code and then try to explain it:

If the managing conservator gives the possessory conservator written notice by April 15 of each year, the managing conservator shall have possession of the child on any one weekend beginning Friday at 6 p.m. and ending at 6 p.m. on the following Sunday during one period of possession by the possessory conservator under Subdivision (2), provided that the managing conservator picks up the child from the possessory conservator and returns the child to that same place.

That allows for the managing conservator to step in and take the kids for a weekend – perhaps good for the kids, since summer can create longer blocks of time away from one parent than they experience during the school year. If the managing conservator does not designate this weekend by April 15 then that visitation weekend is lost.

And finally, there’s one last card that the managing conservator has in finalizing the summer schedule; if he or she:

gives the possessory conservator written notice by April 15 of each year or gives the possessory conservator 14 days’ written notice on or after April 16 of each year, the managing conservator may designate one weekend beginning not earlier than the day after the child’s school is dismissed for the summer vacation and ending not later than seven days before school resumes at the end of the summer vacation, during which an otherwise scheduled weekend period of possession by the possessory conservator will not take place, provided that the weekend designated does not interfere with the possessory conservator’s period or periods of extended summer possession or with Father’s Day if the possessory conservator is the father of the child.

That last designation is important, especially for the many divorced couples where the mother is the managing conservator. While a mother who is managing conservator can designate an additional weekend with just two weeks’ notice, it can’t interfere with Father’s Day Weekend – that becomes time for dad and the kids exclusively no matter which parent fills which role.

Obviously, this can lead to conflicts, particularly if one parent is planning a family vacation and the other parent is able to request a weekend that falls within the vacation time. As we tell parents with all issues related to parenting time, what’s in the decree is a fallback in case you and your ex can’t agree on an arrangement you’re both satisfied with. It’s always best to try to sort out parenting time issues by negotiating if possible (and always making sure there’s written notice and written acknowledgment of that notice, so both parents are literally on the same page). If you must use the decree language, make sure you understand what it says and that you are indeed in the right before you assert to your ex that you are.

Summer can be a wonderful time for parents and kids to connect – making sure you know well in advance what parenting time is yours and what is your ex’s allows you to plan and utilize that time. The more you can communicate with your ex and make your plans clear, the less likely you are to get into conflicts over those plans.