The final school bell rings, signaling summer to more than 5 million lively students in Texas. Summer break is a thrilling time for all children, filled with the sounds of ice cream trucks, aromas emanating from BBQs, and memories made cooling off at local splash pads or cannonballing into the town pool. But for parents, tackling summer break activities can be overwhelming as the educational and developmental baton is thrust upon them by exhausted teachers who are ready to clock out for a well-deserved time off from May to August. It’s now up to you, the parents, to fill your child’s summer days with activities that will keep them engaged, developing, and entertained.
According to Tom Rosenberg, leader of the American Camp Association, in a NY Times Op-Ed piece, approximately 26 million school-aged children in America attend a summer camp program annually as a means for parents to keep their kids satisfied, evolving, and occupied between school years. Despite what has proven to be a challenging economic time for many Americans, some individuals are still fortunate enough to schedule weekend getaways and family vacations throughout the summer months. However, for most parents in the US, taking anything more than a week away or the occasional long weekend off work is not an option. Therefore, investing in a summer-long program for many parents is an expense born out of necessity. Unfortunately, paying for summer camp can be a struggle, especially for divorced or separated parents who share joint custody, also known as “joint conservatorship,” in Texas family courts.
As parents, it’s essential to manage the costs of summer child care in a way that’s both equitable and amicable. Understanding the legal framework and utilizing effective communication strategies in Texas can help ensure smooth and fair arrangements for co-parents. Below we have outlined a guide that will walk you through navigating summer child care costs when you have a joint conservatorship in Texas.
Understanding Your Legal Obligations
Reviewing your custody agreement, parenting plan, or court orders before approaching summer child care or summer camp costs with your former spouse or partner is a critical first step to determining the specific financial obligations. In Texas, the law recognizes joint custody or joint conservatorship as an arrangement where each parent has equal decision-making authority and shares responsibility for their children. Let’s take a look at some of the fundamental factors involved:
- Agreements and Provisions
When preparing for summer child care costs, it’s important to inspect your custody agreement thoroughly, searching for any areas or wording addressing how these expenses are intended to be divided between parents. You may have already touched upon child care in your divorce decree. In some arrangements, a precise formula, breakdown, or percentage for bearing such costs may be provided, while others may be missing the topic entirely or contain language far too vague to decipher. If your agreement is lacking, too ambiguous, or needs restructuring, engaging in some negotiations and talking with your attorney may be necessary.
- Prioritizing The Interests of Your Child
In Texas family courts, the primary focus is the child’s welfare when nailing down custody and child care matters. To determine cost-sharing arrangements, the court considers factors such as each parent’s financial health, additional resources, work schedules, and the child’s development and overall well-being. The court aims to prioritize what is best suited for the child, and this is typically heavily reflected in their decision-making.
Effective Communication and Planning
Open communication is a benefit in all relationships, especially for co-parenting, and an exceptionally significant contribution when discussing finance topics like splitting summer childcare expenses reasonably and cooperatively. However, co-parenting styles and approaches are diverse, differing from family to family. In certain situations, it can be beneficial to enlist the services of a reliable lawyer, especially if your legal decree or existing agreement requires further clarification or adjustments. Either way, for a more prosperous, civil, and swift outcome, review and consider implementing the following strategies:
- Starting and maintaining open and respectful dialogue
To ensure a smooth summer break for your child, initiating an open and honest conversation with the other parent regarding vacation plans and any necessary childcare arrangements is wise. When discussing these topics with your former partner, it’s critical to approach the conversation respectfully and tactfully, keeping your child’s best interests at the forefront of your mind.
- Keeping an open mind
It is wise to consider multiple aspects and options, such as if the child has special needs or even your child’s age when evaluating options for summer plans, child care, or camp. If you have a younger child, exploring options such as a trusted family member who can help watch the child as you and your ex maintain your work duties over the summer may be worthwhile. Alternatively, a local and reputable childcare center may be the answer for those summer months. Parents with older children (roughly second grade-bound and up) may recognize the benefits of summer camp for their child and opt to share the costs equally or come to a mutually agreed-upon arrangement for their child to profit from the structure, socializing, and an active schedule camps can provide.
- Creating a detailed child care plan
Collaborate to arrange a comprehensive program outlining specific dates, times, and activities during the summer break. The agreement should also include details like the type of care required (e.g., daycare, summer camp) and associated costs. Some arrangements may involve multiple types of care. For example, parents may check out local summer youth recreation programs when planning their child’s summer routine. Although the local youth program may only run for part of the duration needed, it can be a valuable addition to your child’s schedule. Perhaps Nana or Grandpa can take on the remainder of the hours until one of the parents finishes work. Alternatively, you may need to hire a babysitter for aftercare. However, parents must iron out details, be perceptive regarding potential hiccups, and have the foresight to plan for handling any challenges and diffusing their impact on the child’s routine and parent’s workday. Lastly, both parents must agree to the final plan, as with any joint conservatorship. It’s essential to have any arrangements between parents put in writing; this way, there’s clarity and accountability for everyone involved. Both parties contribute to the specified costs in the designated and agreed-upon fashion and adhere to all other discussed, approved, and documented details, such as timetables and who is responsible for picking up the child on specific days and in exceptional circumstances.
Note: When dealing with particularly strained relationships between parents, carefully considering and planning a final agreement is crucial. Putting in the effort to create a detailed and thoughtful arrangement can help ensure everyone involved is satisfied with the outcome and avoid hostility.
It is critical to collaborate and agree on how to divide the expenses. There are many ways to take on cost-sharing, with different respects and circumstances. Some options to consider include:
- Equal sharing: Both parents make a matching contribution, a similar percentage or amount towards summer child care expenses.
- Proportional sharing: Contributions are based on each parent’s income or financial resources. It is also wise to consider additional aspects when calculating a balanced sharing option. If one parent is primarily responsible for caring for the child Monday-Friday during the school year, does not have a job, works from home, or has more flexibility during the summer months to provide additional care, both parents may conclude that one parent will contribute a lower percentage towards the cost of summer camp or child care as they are helping in different ways. For example, some parents may be responsible for arranging transportation to and from the camp, taking care of their children during non-camp hours or days, or providing additional recreational activities and care when the other parent needs to remain at work.
- Expense-specific sharing: Parents split up particular costs, such as registration and weekly fees, according to an agreement or mutual understanding.
To assure that any agreement reached between parties is upheld, it must be documented in writing and signed by both parents. You should then attach the signed document as an addendum to your existing decree, agreement, or parenting plan. Doing this can provide clarity and reference points in potential future disputes. Remember, having a written agreement is crucial in avoiding confusion and misunderstandings.
Further Considerations and Consulting Your Family Law Lawyer
It’s essential also to consider whether you or your ex are eligible for child care aid programs if either of you has access to employer-based flexible spending accounts that could help with child care expenses, and examine any related tax implications to how you choose to manage summer child care costs.
Many intricacies are involved in dividing summer childcare expenses in Texas under a joint conservatorship or another custody arrangement. If you have any questions, it is best not to hesitate to contact a skilled and seasoned professional. Ensure that your agreement is airtight, and for your peace of mind, seek the guidance of an experienced Texas family law attorney today by scheduling a confidential consultation.
Attorney Kevin Hunter at Boudreaux Hunter & Associates, LLC has experience with child custody, spousal support, high conflict divorce, and is fully equipped to guide you through the process.