How Divorced Parents Can Avoid Conflict During Holiday Time
For many families who have experienced divorce, the holiday season is often fraught with emotion as each parent vies for the most time possible with their children and the children adjust to the “new normal” of not spending holidays with both parents.
However, with careful planning and negotiation, holidays, birthdays and school breaks don’t have to be mired in conflict. While each family situation is different, there are certain guidelines for creating a schedule that can work for both parties.
The primary question parents must decide is what holidays the parents want to specifically address in a divorce, who will the children spend each such holiday with, and how will this arrangement change from year to year.
When couples are in the process of divorcing and starting to negotiate the custody and holiday schedules, this is the time to scrutinize each child’s school calendar to see the timing and length of each break period.
The biggest holidays are usually in December and, with Christmas specifically, the morning has special meaning to parents with young children. That’s when conflicts can erupt. December holidays usually have the longest break within a school year with the vacation lasting anywhere between 15 and 25 days. Here are some of the most typical ways that divorced couples allocate the holidays:
- Alternate holidays by even and odd year: One parent will get the given holiday in even years and the other parent will get that same holiday in odd years. For instance, the mother would have the children for Thanksgiving in odd years and Christmas in even, while the father has them for Thanksgiving in even years and Christmas in odd.
- Divide a holiday in half: In this scenario, the children spend part of the day with each parent. Since no judge is likely to give one parent every Christmas morning, one parent has the child for Christmas Eve while the other has the child for the remainder of Christmas Day.
- Negotiate additional holidays: For instance, the parents can agree to let the child spend three hours with the non-custodial parent on the child’s birthday. Couples can also agree to both be present for the child’s first day of school. Other religious holidays and special days such as the parents’ birthdays can also be negotiated.
With regard to summer, there are numerous possibilities for how to divide the children’s time between both parents. In a primary / secondary custody situation, where the primary custodian has the child(ren) during the majority of the school year, summer break is an opportune time to make up that custodial difference, especially if the children are only with that parent every other weekend during the year.
For summer breaks, some options divorced parents can choose include:
- Continue the regular parenting schedule and both parents can get two (2) or three (3) weeks of consecutive or non-consecutive summer parenting time, which afford each parent the opportunity to take an extended vacation with the child(ren);
- Divide summer vacation 50-50, alternating parenting time with the children on a week-on, week-off basis so one parent has the children one week and then the other parent has the children the next week; Alternatively, the children could also stay with one parent in the first half of the summer and go to the other parent for the rest of the break; or
- Give the majority of the summertime to the non-custodial parent, especially when the non-custodial lives out-of-state.
Additionally, the non-custodial parent could ask to have the children every year for the smaller breaks from school or other religious holidays, arguing that it would be much-needed quality time and not a huge demand on the parent who has primary custody.
When crafting a holiday parenting time schedule, one consideration to take in mind is whether or not each parent wants to travel with the children to visit relatives for a holiday. Consider Thanksgiving when one parent wants to take the children for a celebration with grandparents who reside in another state. That parent may want the entire holiday because of the needed travel time, as opposed to exchanging the child in the middle of the break. The exchange time might be the day before Thanksgiving, which is one of the busiest travel days of the year. Under those circumstances, it may make more sense for the children to spend that entire holiday weekend with the traveling parent. This should be taken into account when drawing up the holiday schedule.
In some instances, a parent must work during a holiday. For example, one parent may be a nurse who finds out the week before Thanksgiving that he has to work. In that case, parties should consider whether or not they want to include provisions which require that parent to offer the other parent that holiday because they cannot care for the children. Where that work obligation exists, a provision can be put into the holiday schedule agreement or order that the custodial parent has the right of first refusal in the event that there is a work conflict.
Splitting time up between parents is especially difficult with young children. When the children become teenagers, they will have more decision-making power over what they want to do and who they want to see during school holidays.
Besides the negotiated and agreed-upon schedules, there are several apps on the market that can be used to keep holiday co-parenting on track. These apps are designed to help parents avoid scenes where one parent doesn’t show up on time with the children for the other parent. Some of the most common apps or tools used by parents include 2houses, Amicable, Coparently, Our Family Wizard and Google Calendar.
When abiding by an agreed-upon schedule, families of divorce can ensure that holidays go smoothly for everyone and become the best of times, full of tradition and fond memories for the children and both their parents.