For many busy parents, the long summer holiday is a time to unwind, to put life’s stresses and strains to one side and to really relax. And top of the ‘on one side’ pile are usually any ex-partners who may be on the periphery.
Those wrangles over weekend custody dates, problems with stepchildren and historical grievances that you’ve worked all year to keep contained can be left on the Tarmac as you fly off.
What, then, to make of those women who choose this most precious of times to holiday with their ex-husbands?
Take Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, who ‘consciously uncoupled’ in 2014 but were pictured last week on holiday with their new partners — Brad Falchuk and Dakota Johnson — in tow, acting as if it was the most normal and enjoyable family set-up ever.
Like Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew, who split 23 years ago but still get together for a family holiday, some couples don’t let the small matter of a divorce get in the way of a fun break. In fact, they insist that holidaying as exes is more enjoyable than travelling as a married couple.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Falchuk enjoy a beach double date with Gwyneth's ex, Chris Martin and his current girlfriend, Dakota Johnson in the Hamptons
Some even insist that it’s the secret to surviving separation.
Emily Wilkinson is one such mother. When the 54-year-old loads up the car with her two daughters for their annual trip to France, there is an extra passenger: her ex-husband Howard Lewis, 58. They have done this every year since their marriage broke down in 2010.
With daughters Molly, 15, and Edie, 13, the exes even share a campsite chalet — or on one occasion a tent — and appear to fellow holidaymakers like any other married couple.
‘Two years ago in the Dordogne, we got friendly with a couple who had children the same age as ours and we never even mentioned that we’re no longer together,’ says Emily. ‘Neither of us could be bothered with all the explaining and justifying that would follow.
‘People just assume you’re together. When you say you’re not, you can tell from their expressions they think you must be mad.’
Emily, a graphic designer, and Howard, who works for the General Medical Council, divorced in March last year and he has moved out of the family home. Neither of them is in any doubt that their relationship is beyond hope of resurrection.
‘I’m not sure we were ever that well matched, but we enjoyed each other’s company,’ says Emily. ‘There was no bad behaviour on either side but, over time, the relationship broke down.’
The first summer apart, they took the girls on holiday separately — but soon after arriving home, they decided it didn’t feel right.
Fast forward to the summer of 2012, and all four of them were holidaying in one large tent in France — albeit with Emily sharing a partitioned ‘room’ with the girls, while Howard had a partitioned ‘room’ to himself.
And so a trend was set. In subsequent years they have booked three-bedroom chalets on campsites in several regions of France.
‘When they were little, it was hard work taking the kids on holiday on your own because they needed watching constantly, by the pool or at the beach,’ says Emily.
‘With both of us there we could take it in turns. It was much more enjoyable for everyone.’
While many ex-couples would find it awkward spending a fortnight in such close proximity, Emily and Howard insist they have it down to a fine art.
Sources of frustration when they were together have lost their sting. For example, that Howard is a night owl and Emily a morning lark was a problem when they shared a bed. Nowadays, she can turn in when she pleases and enjoys the peace of early mornings alone.
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew, split 23 years ago but still get together for a family holiday
But what if one of them caught the other in a moment of undress?
Although they have obviously seen each other naked many times before — and Howard witnessed Emily give birth — they are now careful about staying covered up in front of one another.
‘Of course, I walk around in a bikini in front of him,’ says Emily. ‘But I wouldn’t dream of undressing in front of him now. It’s not awkward because there’s no longer any chemistry between us.’
Howard concurs with Emily’s view that, as parents, they have a responsibility to put their children’s needs first.
‘Our separation has been very amicable and we’re both still single, so we’re able to focus entirely on our children,’ he says. ‘But, of course, if either of us had another partner, it would make it difficult to go away together.’
Well-intentioned though they are, could people who still holiday with their ex be giving false hope to their children?
While it’s painful to see your mum and dad fighting or not speaking at all, amicable holidays with separated parents must be a torment for those who long constantly for their mum and dad to get back together.
Andrew G. Marshall, marital therapist and author of I Love You But I’m Not In Love With You, cautions that it could. ‘On the one hand, it shows your children you can still co-operate,’ he says.
‘On the other, a joint holiday can raise expectations of a reunion — and most children secretly hope for a reconciliation, even if one parent has remarried.’
A new marriage did not stop Judith Broadbent, 61, and her ex David going on holiday together years after their divorce in 2007.
They say they simply ‘outgrew one another’ and resolved to share the care of their youngest child, Jack, then eight.
When David met his second wife, Vicky, 43, soon afterwards, Jack grew close to his stepmum. Then, when Jack turned 18 two years ago, David and Vicky offered to take him to Disney World in Florida to celebrate, along with David’s older daughter Liz, 30, and her two children.
But Jack said he would go only if his mum came, too. Brave Judith promptly agreed.
‘Vicky is a lovely person who wants everyone to be happy. We all get together for the children’s birthdays, so I didn’t have any qualms about tagging along,’ says Judith, a book editor, who is still single.
Did she not feel a pang for the marriage she once had when they were all away together?
Not at all, she says. ‘They’re not a kissy-kissy couple. I certainly never felt like a gooseberry.’
The whole party even managed to make light of their unusual set-up when they went out for dinner one night and David introduced them all to the waiter, saying: ‘This is wife number one, my ex-wife, and wife number two, my new wife.’ The waiter looked baffled.
However, there were occasional tensions when Judith forgot she had lost the ‘right’ to boss her ex around.
‘We had a minor disagreement about keeping the grandchildren out of the heat,’ she says, ‘and I caught Vicky looking at me as if to say: “You’re talking like that to my husband?”.
‘But we joined forces, too, teasing Dave, calling him Victor Meldrew from One Foot In The Grave when he started moaning.’
For his part, when he is teased by friends about going on holiday with both Judith and Vicky, David laughs it off, saying not many men can boast of having been in a hot tub with their wife and their ex-wife at the same time.
He is similarly relaxed about their unorthodox grouping.
‘It wasn’t weird at all,’ he says. ‘We’ve kept a good relationship for the kids’ sake, and we’ve both moved on.’
It's not always better alone: A holiday with an ex may feel awkward at first but any awkwardness is compensated by your children's joy
The passage of time since their separation must surely have helped Dave and Judith — but when Keeley Foster and her ex-husband Darren agreed to share not just a holiday but a room at Disneyland Paris, they had been apart for only three months.
Keeley, a supervising social worker from Chelmsford, Essex, and Darren, a mechanic, had broken the news of their separation as gently as possible to their children, 13-year-old Callum and ten-year-old Lia, in September 2015.
‘The first thing they asked was: “Are we still going on holiday?”,’ says Keeley. ‘We couldn’t possibly add to their upset by saying only one of us would take them, so we said: “Yes”.
‘I suppose if there had been cheating on either side we wouldn’t have been able to do it, but there hadn’t. We had just fallen out of love.’
As the Fosters began to unpack in their family room at the hotel, the children, noting the two double beds, asked where they were all sleeping.
Keeley quickly replied: ‘Girls together and boys together.’
She adds: ‘I would get dressed in the bathroom and Darren did the same. When we went out for dinner, we made sure not to sit next to each other. We didn’t want anyone, including our children, to get the wrong idea, but I’m sure people assumed we were just a standard family.
‘In fact, we actually got on better then than we did when we were together.’
The compensation for any awkwardness was their children’s joy — they even posed as a foursome with the various Disney characters they encountered. ‘We get on as best we can for them. Our children are a connection for life, whether we love each other or not,’ says Keeley.
‘Turning in for the night didn’t feel uncomfortable because the beds were quite far apart.
‘However, when he started snoring I thought: “God, I haven’t missed that!” ’
As to the chances of repeating the experience, Keeley tactfully says: ‘Going on another holiday with Darren wouldn’t be on my bucket list.’
And Darren agrees it was a one-off: ‘We got on fine, but I have a new partner now so I wouldn’t do it again.’
All three sets of parents have been clear with their children that there is no chance of them getting back together.
‘At one time my youngest had a romantic notion that we should be together and had one of our wedding photos at the side of her bed,’ says Emily Wilkinson.
‘I talked to her about it and said: “It’s great Dad and I can be friends. A lot of people have parents who can’t bear each other, whereas we can happily spend time together.”
‘It’s far better, in my view, for our children to have parents who are civil enough to hang out together on holiday.’