The Chaos of Summer Visitation: My Journey Through High-Conflict Co-Parenting

Dealing with summer visitation in a high-conflict co-parenting situation is never easy. My recent experience turned into a power struggle over my son’s schedule, causing unnecessary stress and disruption. Learn strategies to manage these challenges and create a more stable environment for your children.
Graphic with two pink palm trees in front of a striped sun backdrop. Text reads "The Chaos of Summer Visitation" in cursive. Background is a gradient from light pink to peach, capturing the tumultuous journey of high-conflict co-parenting during summer visitation.
Graphic with two pink palm trees in front of a striped sun backdrop. Text reads “The Chaos of Summer Visitation” in cursive. Background is a gradient from light pink to peach, capturing the tumultuous journey of high-conflict co-parenting during summer visitation.

I just had my first summer exchange with my ex, and as always, it was ridiculous and the normal chaos of summer visitation. What should have been a simple exchange after his first 2 week parenting time of the summer became a struggle over power and control. My son had attended a camp his last week with his dad and was invited to a graduation party afterward; this is where the trouble began.

What should have been a quick text from my 15-year-old saying he was invited to a party and asking if we had plans turned into several messages back and forth with my ex about how he made plans without talking with me and him trying to control pickup and drop off of our son and his belongings.

Nothing can be easy when you are dealing with a high-conflict, abusive ex. Any change in a parenting or visitation schedule causes trouble, drama, and stress. For some, the school year may bring a sense of rhythm and predictability, but for others, things are always difficult. The transition from the school year to summer visits takes these challenges to a whole new level. Here’s what I’ve experienced and what others in similar situations might expect.

The Challenges of School Year Visitation

Constant Struggle

Even during the school year, when routines should be more predictable, dealing with a high-conflict ex can be a constant struggle. The kid’s schedules revolve around school hours, extracurricular activities, and homework, which theoretically should create a predictable visitation routine. But this isn’t always the case. Maintaining a consistent schedule is a continuous battle for many, including myself.

High-conflict exes often find ways to disrupt the routine, causing stress and anxiety. They may demand changes at the last minute, refuse to adhere to agreed-upon plans, or use any minor deviation as an opportunity to create conflict. The predictability of the school year can be a fragile illusion when dealing with someone who thrives on control and chaos.

This school year has been the easiest yet, after nearly 10 years. There was stability in our school year exchanges only because our current agreement states that visitation begins at the end of the school day on Friday and ends when school starts on Monday morning. There is no longer a power struggle of when and where to meet or getting belongings back and forth.

The Amplified Chaos of Summer

Lack of Structure

Summer visitation introduces a whole new set of dynamics. The lack of a consistent routine creates an environment ripe for conflict. Vacations, camps, and various activities make the schedule more fluid and less predictable. A high-conflict ex can exploit this unpredictability to create confusion and assert control.

For many, their court order doesn’t clearly spell out specifics regarding summer visitation, and honestly, mine is vague at this point. Things being vague makes it easy for someone with high conflict to create confusion. They will change the location, the time of exchanges, edit visitations, or even cancel at the last minute, causing chaos. This behavior increases stress and disrupts the children’s sense of stability and security. The ambiguity of summer schedules becomes a tool for high-conflict exes to maintain control and cause emotional turmoil.

My Personal Experience

In past summers, things were particularly challenging. Despite having a detailed schedule, my ex found ways to create new problems at the last minute. He caused issues with activities, exchange locations, and other logistical details that were never discussed. This created a lot of confusion and stress, not just for me but for the kids as well.

During the school year, we had managed to establish a routine that worked, but summer always brought a whole new set of issues. The emotional toll was significant. My kids were caught in the middle of the conflict, feeling torn between their parents. This manipulation and disruption of agreed-upon logistics turned what should have been a fun and relaxing time into a period of heightened anxiety and stress.

Strategies for Managing the Transition

  1. Create a Detailed Summer Schedule: Before summer begins, create a detailed schedule, including all planned vacations, camps, and activities. Share this schedule with your ex well in advance and request a written agreement to minimize last-minute changes.
  2. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all communications regarding visitation. This includes emails, text messages, and any changes to the schedule. Documentation can be invaluable if conflicts escalate and you need legal intervention.
  3. Maintain Consistent Communication: Use a reliable method of communication, such as a co-parenting app, to keep all interactions documented and organized. This reduces the chance of miscommunication and provides a clear record of agreements and disputes.
  4. Involve a Third Party: If possible, involve a neutral third party, such as a mediator or a trusted family member, to oversee the transition. This can help de-escalate conflicts and ensure both parties adhere to the agreed schedule.
  5. Prioritize the Children’s Well-Being: Always keep the children’s best interests at the forefront. High-conflict exes often use children as pawns in their power struggles. By focusing on what is best for the children, you can help shield them from conflict and provide a more stable environment.
  6. Prepare for the Unexpected: Despite your best efforts, conflicts may still arise. Have a plan in place for dealing with unexpected changes or disputes. This might include working with a divorce coach, having readily available legal advice, or setting up emergency childcare options.
  7. Self-Care: Managing a high-conflict co-parenting relationship is incredibly stressful. Ensure you take time for self-care, seek support from friends, family, or a therapist, and engage in activities that help you relax and recharge.


The transition from school year to summer visitation can be fraught with challenges, mainly when dealing with a high-conflict, abusive ex. Any change in a parenting or visitation schedule causes trouble, drama, and stress. By preparing in advance, maintaining clear and consistent communication, and prioritizing the well-being of your children, you can navigate this difficult time more effectively. Remember, you are not alone in this journey—seek support and care for yourself as you work through these challenges.

Sharing my story is a way to let others know they are not alone. Transitioning to summer visitation brings its own set of difficulties, but with the right strategies and support, you can manage these challenges and provide a stable environment for your children.

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