As longtime child custody lawyers, we know that trying to make holiday parenting time work so everyone is happy can be hard on you. That’s especially so when you feel like you’re the only parent who’s trying. But remember, what you’re doing is in the best interests of your children. It’s all about them.
An added incentive to consider – the potential benefits of working hard to minimize holiday parenting time troubles between you and the other parent go far beyond making the holidays nice for your child. Child psychology experts say that after a divorce, parental conflict over child care issues puts children at greater risk for behavioral and emotional problems.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid a nightmare with custody schedules before (or during) Christmas.
Know school schedules in advance
Just when you think you have it all worked out and everything is cool, the school goes and changes the holiday break schedule (or we find ourselves in a global pandemic and everyone is attending school remotely?) Even if your parenting plan can adjust to a new schedule without confusion, a change in school calendars may change the amount of time you have with your child. If you realize it at the last minute, you’re less likely to find a solution that both parents can agree on before the holiday.
In the best case scenario, you and the other parent are able to agree to change things up a bit to give your child an opportunity to have as much time as possible with both parents. But if you can’t agree, you may need to enlist the help of an attorney. For that reason, it’s a good idea to check holiday calendars for the school year as soon as the school publishes them. If you didn’t do that for this school year, check the calendar now for all of the holidays yet to come and try to get things worked out as best you can if there is an issue.
Stick to the parenting plan
This may sound simple, but you might be surprised at how frequently one parent decides, on their own, to do something a little different during holiday parenting time without saying anything to the other parent. Usually it’s because they believe it’s a minor change that’s no big deal. Their belief is nearly always incorrect.
Whether it’s something like changing pick up or drop off time by just fifteen minutes, or having someone else pick up your child and bring them to your holiday celebration instead of picking them up yourself, if it’s something different from what the parenting plan says, don’t do it unless the other parent knows your plan and agrees. Both parents must agree in advance on any deviations from the parenting plan.
Figure out your holiday custody schedule early and communicate
This is the most important thing: communication. However it works best in your situation, let the other parent know what your plans are and give them all the info they need to feel informed and clear about what is going on. Also, circumstances may change if someone is potentially exposed to COVID-19 and you may have to adjust plans or schedules to fit in quarantine time. For more information about parenting time as it specifically relates to COVID-19 concerns, read our blog HERE.
Many times, if we’re in the dark about something, our imagination takes over and we conjure up all kinds of things that upset us and can cause arguments for no reason. Clear, consistent communication can alleviate this avoidable problem.
Don’t be a holiday custody schedule Grinch
This is where the “being the bigger person” part comes in. No matter how you feel about the other parent, their holiday traditions, their significant other, or anything else that matters to your child, don’t bad mouth or bash.
As hard as it is sometimes, remember that it’s about doing what’s right for your child’s feelings and well-being; it isn’t about you. When you communicate with your child about their holiday time with the other parent, or your child is telling you about it, be positive. By doing so, you’ll make your child feel supported.
Also, if something happens that is beyond your ex’s control, or is out of the ordinary, be flexible. For instance, if you are supposed to have the kids Christmas Day and your ex is supposed to have them Christmas Eve, but the ex is called into work on Christmas Eve, try to accommodate some time for them to enjoy Christmas Day with the kids, even if it puts a damper on some of your plans.
There are lots of options for sharable calendars on the web – ranging from Google to parenting calendar websites. Use one of them to help with your holiday custody schedule.
Shared calendars are a great tool to make sure everyone is clear on who needs to be where when, so everyone is on the same page. If you have tech trouble, you may even ask your child to participate and help you out. Most kids are tech savvy by elementary school. This will make them feel included in an appropriate way while giving them clarity as well.
Don’t Go It Alone
If all else fails with your holiday custody schedule and you need legal advice or need to take action on a parenting plan problem that manifests itself over the holidays, Hightower Reff Law has a team of experienced child custody attorneys and a mediator who can help.