For children of divorced or separated parents, the holidays are an opportunity for double the fun while school is out, but that depends on the parents’ communication, cooperation and planning. For all such parents, especially those who do not have an effective co-parenting relationship with one another, the best thing you can do to address holiday timesharing is to plan well in advance.
If you have already been through the Court system, then you should have a written Parenting Plan. That Parenting Plan should set forth specific provisions for the division of holiday timesharing, including, at a minimum, the dates the children will be with each parent and the times and locations of the exchanges. Just like every family, every plan may be unique and crafted to fit the needs of you and your children. The written parenting plan is likely adopted by a court order, which means you will all need to follow the parenting plan unless both parents have agreed to deviate from the plan, in advance. If you have agreed to deviate, it is the best practice to have this agreement documented in an email or text, just to ensure there is no miscommunication. If the court ordered parenting plan no longer meets the needs of your family, you should see an attorney to determine if you can have it modified.
If you do not have a written parenting plan, then the best way to get through the holidays is to plan in advance. Don’t wait until the middle of November to discuss where your children will spend Thanksgiving. By then, your children deserve to know where they will be for the Holidays. There are some issues to consider, when discussing the schedule, first, does either parent have specific holiday traditions that should be honored every year? Second, where did the children spend last year’s holidays, and can you agree to alternate the Holiday’s annually? For example, if the children are with Mom for Thanksgiving this year, they should be with Dad for Christmas, and switch those holidays next year. Also, consider whether the children will maintain their normal schedule for their winter school break, or will it be different (i.e., rotating the first and second weeks of Christmas/Winter Break each year). For most parents, this will require you to discuss child care arrangements during the break while you are working.
Like most everything else, the longer you put off the discussion of firming up the schedule and the details, the more likely that there will be a disagreement that cannot be resolved before the specific holiday. Whether or not you have a written Parenting Plan, any unresolved issues regarding the timesharing schedule for the holidays and locations for exchanges of the children should ideally be resolved during the preceding summer break from school. All parents should remember that these Winter Holidays are about family and the children, and each should do their part to make sure their children can have an enjoyable holiday without the unnecessary burden of arguments about when or where exchanges are taking place.
Our perspective on these issues comes from not only our experience as family law attorneys, but as children of divorce. If you don’t take the early, necessary steps to reduce the potential for conflict during the holidays, the unfortunate memories that will be created during childhood will negatively impact the family dynamic during the holidays for a lifetime.
Dale Klaus and Reuben Doupé are partners at Klaus Doupé, a leading law firm in Naples focusing solely on marital and family law. For more information, please go to Marital-FamilyLaw.com or call 239-403-9800.