BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - With the end of the school year approaching, divorced and separated parents need to plan ahead for summer visitation arrangements for their children, said a University of Missouri Extension human environmental sciences specialist.

Some visitation details are determined by the parents' court-mandated parenting plan, said Kris Jenkins. "Most outline the visitation length, child support details and transportation responsibilities, but some parenting plans are not this specific. Many, however, can be adjusted by mutual agreement if it benefits the children."

Flexibility is important: In order to decide whether children spend one long period or several short ones with the noncustodial parent, keep in mind the ages of the children, the length of time they can be gone and the other parent's ability to care for them.

Many children spend a month or six weeks, while other summer visitations are longer - especially if the parents live far apart. "Sometimes, particularly as your children age, the plan doesn't work or is difficult to accommodate, so be prepared to renegotiate," Jenkins said.

Jenkins advised parents to remember these key points:

  • Children have a right to spend time with both parents.
  • Children should be encouraged to enjoy their time with the noncustodial parent.
  • Children have a right to love both parents.

"All family members have fears and concerns about the visitation," Jenkins said. Custodial parents worry about their children's health and safety and their adjustment to a different environment. Children worry about how they will spend their time, the separation from friends, their acceptance by step- or half-siblings and their relationship with their other parent. "Children often do not verbalize their worries or are not old enough to express them, but these worries still exist," she said.

Noncustodial parents have concerns about how to spend time with their children, how to manage chores, responsibilities and work, and if their children will like or love them. They also worry about how the children will adjust to new family members.

To ease the transition, make summer vacation plans well in advance. Issues such as duration, travel, rules, curfews, diet and medicines should be explicitly agreed upon by parents - in writing, if necessary. Discuss planned activities such as day or sports camps, swimming lessons, vacation destinations and other events with the children. Youngsters who help make plans have something to look forward to and feel important and valued.

Both parents have a role in preparing children for the summer ahead. The custodial parent can positively influence their children's attitudes about the visit and the noncustodial parent can smooth the way through regular contact during the school year. As adults, work together to make the summer transition easy for your children, Jenkins said.