By Corrine Bylund
Holidays are stressful. Planning early can help ensure that everyone can continue to have memorable happy holidays, even in the midst of litigation.
First, some dos and don’ts for the holiday season:
Do make the best of your time with your child. Just because you might not have the exact date or hour that you wanted, doesn’t make your time with your child any less special.
Do encourage your child to enjoy the time they spend with your spouse or former spouse. Your child will likely be upset that they aren’t spending time with both you and your spouse during the holidays. Make separate holidays easier by letting your child know that it’s okay with you that they have a good time with their other parent.
Don’t disparage your spouse or your spouse’s family in front of your child.
Traditional holiday timesharing guidelines provide that both parents either rotate holidays on a yearly basis or split holidays every year. Winter Break is generally split with parents exchanging their children on Christmas Day at 3:00 p.m. Winter Break is generally defined as starting after school or work on the last day of school before break starts and ending at 6:00 p.m. the day before school resumes.
Not all holidays are addressed in traditional guidelines. If you still have the opportunity to negotiate an agreement, rather than have the court assign you with a boilerplate arrangement, you should carefully consider holidays that are special to you.
Parents should keep informed regarding their child’s academic calendar. Blaming a spouse or former spouse for not informing you will not work. Academic calendars are readily available online for most schools. If your child isn’t in school yet, you might agree to use the academic calendar for the school district where you reside. Unless one parent has sole parental responsibility, which is extremely rare, you should be able to access your child’s records by contacting the school directly. Make sure to keep informed regarding your child’s school activities at this time of the year. Frequently one parent will feel left out if she does not know of a concert or party. These situations can be avoided by careful planning and open communication.
Some cases are high in conflict. In those situations it might not be appropriate for both parents to attend school functions at the same time. If you can’t be civil for your children, don’t put them in the position of having to choose, especially at school where peer pressure and public embarrassment would only compound their stress over the fact that their parents can’t get along and are divorcing.
When your child is scheduled to be with you it is your responsibility to make sure you have made arrangements for daycare. You should work with your spouse or former spouse on this. If your former spouse is willing and able to take care of your child when you are at work, or might just need a few hours to do last minute shopping, you should ask your spouse if they want to take care of the kids for a few hours. If they’re not interested, then at least you asked before having someone else take care of your kids. Offering extra time to your former spouse should not feel like a burden. It should feel like the right thing to do.
Even if you already have a court order, you should still try to accommodate reasonable requests by your spouse or former spouse to alter your plans. You should not make last minute requests. Making last minute changes can be inconsiderate to your former spouse but can also create instability for your child. Keep in mind that the guidelines are just that . . . guidelines. They do not prevent parties from agreeing to different arrangements. They are only meant to be the default position if you can’t agree on different arrangements.
Traditional guidelines are not appropriate for every case. For example, if one parent is a firefighter or police officer, a traditional schedule might not work. Parents need to be flexible and work together to make a schedule. Working together to do what is best for your children is always better than risking that the court might assign you guidelines that won’t work for anyone.
Corrine A. Bylund, Esq., is an associate attorney with Zisser, Robison, Brown, Nowlis, Maciejewski & Cabrey, P.A., in Jacksonville, Fla. Cori has practiced exclusively in the area of family law since she became an attorney in 2005. Cori lectures for the National Business Institute and the Institute for Paralegal Education. She is also licensed in Wisconsin.