It is the time of year to make decisions for your children’s summer camp. Maybe this is the first year they are going to camp, maybe they have historically gone to camp, or maybe they took a pause from camp participation during the past two summers due to COVID, but regardless, this year you want to send them to camp and your co-parent disagrees. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions by our clients regarding summer camp.
Do I need my co-parent’s agreement to enroll my child in summer camp?
Like so many answers in the law, it depends. First, it is important to review your custody order. If you have sole legal (decision-making) custody, you do not need your co-parent’s agreement but you may be required to notify them of the decision (and it may be good co-parenting to notify them regardless of whether that is required of you or not). If your custody order provides that you have shared legal custody, the analysis may need to go a bit further. If your child’s enrollment in summer camp has no effect on your co-parent’s custodial time, you may not need his/her agreement to enroll your child. However, if the camp enrollment affects your co-parent’s physical custody, you will need their agreement.
If we cannot agree, how will a decision be made?
Unless there is a joint agreement that can be reached, the court (or another appointed decision-maker) may have to make this decision. For a binding decision, you can certainly file a Petition for Special Relief to bring the matter before the Court. You can also agree to bring the issue to binding arbitration with an agreed-upon arbitrator. If you have a parenting coordinator appointed in your case, you can bring the matter before that individual as well (although they will not be able to make decisions regarding the apportionment of the cost of the camp). Although mediators and co-parenting counselors cannot make binding decisions regarding camp, they may be able to facilitate the decision-making process which may be a good place to start when negotiating with your co-parent (whether directly or through counsel) fails.
When will a decision be made?
In most local Pennsylvania counties, a Petition for Special Relief regarding camp decisions will need to be filed several months in advance of the enrollment deadlines to ensure the issue will be decided in time. Arbitrators and parent coordinators can make much more expedited decisions (and mediators and co-parenting counselors can also help facilitate discussion in a more expedited fashion).
What factors are likely to be considered by the decision-maker?
- The health and safety of the child at the camp or to participate in the camp;
- The ability of the camp to address any special needs of the child;
- The well-reasoned preference of a child based on their age and maturity;
- The child’s past participation;
- The child’s interest and aptitude;
- The need of a parent for childcare during the times of the camp;
- The friends of the child attending the camp;
- The cost of the camp;
- The convenience to the parents and logistics of the child’s participation;
- The impact of the camp on the non-consenting parent’s custodial time;
- Any and all other factors that may be unique to the child, the parties, the camp, etc.
Note: The above factors are listed in no particular order and the trier of fact has the discretion as to how much weight to assign each factor.
How is camp paid?
Most often, camp is paid in proportion to income and as specified in the support order; however, depending upon the circumstances, the payment may be reapportioned or renegotiated.
Are there other options?
Parents (and lawyers) come up with unique options to resolve camp disputes all the time. In situations where parents have equal (or substantially equal) custodial time and similar incomes, it may make sense to designate weeks for each parent to be the sole decision-maker and bear the sole cost of the camps they decide. Parents may also agree to be bound by the input of their co-parenting counselor or another third party. Parents may also agree to bear the majority of costs to be given the right to select the camp or for their child to participate in more expensive options.
If you have a camp decision looming, it is important you speak to an experienced family law attorney to help assist you in resolving the dispute in a manner that is in the best interests of your child and which makes sense for your family.