MATHEWS: When does summer parenting time start?

On Thursday, April 2, Gov, Gretchen Whitmer ordered that all K-12 school buildings remain closed for the rest of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to many changes in the way students are finishing the school year. Some students are doing online learning and others are working on printed materials sent home by their teachers. Closing schools has no doubt created challenges for many families, such as figuring out how to navigate online learning and balancing a parent’s work schedule with keeping a child on track with schoolwork at home.

The closure of school buildings for the academic year has also created a unique issue for parents who are co-parenting in separate homes and following a parenting time order — is it summer parenting time yet? Most parenting time orders contain separate provisions for parenting time in the summer that take into consideration the fact that children will not be in school all day. For example, some parents may alternate weeks during the summer.

No matter what the schedule is for the summer, in most orders, when summer parenting time starts is typically determined based on the last day of school for the academic year. This has led to many parents wondering if summer parenting time started in April when school buildings were closed for the rest of the academic year.

As much as we may all be wishing for summer to start, school’s not out for summer yet, which means summer parenting time has not started yet. While school buildings are closed, students are still participating in learning activities and considered to be in school. To determine when your summer parenting time will start, you should first read the terms of your parenting time order to see if it has a specific start date for summer parenting time. Parenting time orders are still in effect and both parties are expected to follow them. The terms have not changed just because school buildings have closed for the academic year.

If your summer parenting time schedule starts when school is out, you should look at the posted academic calendar for the school your child attends and see what the planned last day of school is for this academic school year. The date the school has posted for the last day of school is what you would use for any summer parenting time that starts after the last day of school. 

For example, if you had a parenting time order that indicated your summer parenting time is to start the first Friday after the last day of school, and your child attends a school in the Dowagiac Union School District, you would look at the Dowagiac Union Schools’ District Calendar to find out when the last day of school is.  The website for Dowagiac Union Schools has a district calendar posted that indicates the last day of school for this academic year is Wednesday, June 10.  This is the date for the last day of school that would be used to determine the start of summer parenting time in the example.

While it may seem like summer parenting time should just start now since students aren’t physically attending school in school buildings, one thing to keep in mind is that parenting time orders have an impact on child support orders. One factor that impacts child support orders is the number of overnight visits that each parent has with a child.  Parenting time orders that have summer parenting time starting at the end of a school year typically have corresponding child support orders that have calculated the number of overnights for each parent during the summer based on the typical school year calendar of 180 days for the school year.  Increasing the number of overnights for the year by starting summer parenting time early could potentially impact child support.

Parents can always agree to modify parenting time orders in the best interest of their children, but if you can’t agree, you need to follow what your order says for summer parenting time.

Sarah Mathews is the deputy Friend of the Court Cass County Friend of the Court

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