The end-of-year holidays are a notoriously tricky time of year for co-parents. Family law attorneys tell us it's their busiest time of year with complaints from angry clients who think the lawyers can help them resolve holiday schedule disputes (news flash – they can’t / won’t).
While this post is too late to help much this winter break, the principles discussed here apply to every holiday, vacation, and birthday throughout the year.
For a complete discussion on handling holiday and vacation schedules, including a full-length real parenting plan, see chapter six of Baby Out of Wedlock: Co-Parenting Basics From Pregnancy to Custody.
Tip #1 – Your Child Cannot Be Two Places at Once
Every Christian wants to open presents with their child on Christmas morning, but does it really matter which day you celebrate? The same goes for birthdays and most other holidays. Mature adults can celebrate a special occasion on any day they choose. Birthdays parties can shift a week or two. So can Christmas or Hanukkah or even Thanksgiving.
Perhaps some holidays are not easily shifted – like fireworks on July 4th or New Year's Eve. Indeed, school holidays cannot be moved. You will just have to alternate in some sort of equitable fashion for these. This leads to tip #2.
Tip #2 – Single Day Holidays are Worthless
My co-parent and I tried to split Christmas Morning at 11 am in the early years. It was a disaster, and neither of us nor our daughter got to enjoy the day.
Furthermore, our original parenting plan said things like “parents will alternate MLK holiday each year,” but what if your MLK Monday holiday this year falls adjacent to their regular weekend?
Most parents want to make the most of a three-day weekend, especially if there is any distance between you. But even if you live nearby, transitions can be difficult for kids (and parents), and it's just not worth transitioning for a short mini-visit.
Our advice is to keep any special holidays long enough to matter. Make days like July 4th at least 48 hours long. Make days like MLK, Presidents, Memorial, and Labor Day remain intact with their adjacent weekends.
Tip #3 – School Vacations are Easy if You Do This
For longer vacations, like winter and spring break, we recommend you write it in your parenting plan to simply divide the school vacations in half, alternating who gets the first half each year.
If your child doesn’t attend school yet, then just start by sharing a few nights in year one and phase in more time each year until you reach the typical length of spring break (1 week) or winter break (2 weeks).
Tip #4 – Summer Vacation Strategies
Summer vacations caused more problems for me and my co-parent than almost anything else. We wrote a detailed summer schedule in our parenting plan, but still, we couldn’t seem to agree on a summer schedule for many years in a row.
Ideally, you can treat summer like any other school vacation and agree to split it in half down the middle. However, that may not be possible or best for the child when parents have to work or if there are summer camps involved in later years.
If you do not automatically split the summer in half, you will need a process to determine a customized summer schedule each year. Make sure to 1.) give each parent some choice in the matter, so everyone gets at least a few days they care about most and 2.) set a date in the spring (April 1st?) by which you agree to have the schedule in writing or else you will attend a mediation session to solve the disagreement.
Tip #5 – Get a Parenting Coordinator
Bottom line – we advise every new co-parent to sign up for a parenting coordinator, at least for the first few years when there will surely be disagreements.
Parents sometimes fear that working with a PC means “a stranger will be deciding their life for them,” but that is totally misguided.
First, your PC is not a stranger. They get to know you and your situation much more than most lawyers or judges will. These are licensed professionals who want to help you reach compromises.
Second, unlike lawyers and judges, your PC can actually help solve your disagreements. Unlike regular mediation, parenting coordinators have the authority to force compromises that carry the weight of the law behind them. You can be sure you will get results with a PC.
Third, working with a PC is timely. You don’t need to wait weeks or months to schedule a meeting. Your PC is “on-call” to help solve disputes at a moment’s notice. This is very important, especially with holiday disputes, because if it takes too long to get a resolution, then the holiday passes by.
Litigation is expensive, slow, and doesn’t solve disputes about details like holiday disagreements. Mediation is better than litigating and better than nothing, i.e., better than blindly yelling at each other. But in our experience, parenting coordination is the only way to get results quickly, fairly, and affordably.
We strongly recommend that every parent of a baby-out-of-wedlock work with a parenting coordinator from day one. There is no downside and potentially huge benefits.
-Jim & Jessica
Jim and Jessica Braz are not lawyers. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, they do not give legal advice on this website. Furthermore, child custody laws, child support calculations, and family law, in general, vary from state to state. Be sure to consult an attorney in the appropriate state for your custody litigation.
Jim and Jessica Braz are not doctors. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, they do not give medical advice on this website. Be sure to consult your doctor on your specific medical situation.
Jim and Jessica Braz are not licensed therapists, mediators, or counselors. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, you should consult licensed professionals as needed.
The advice given on this website does not hold Jim and Jessica Braz legally liable for any adverse outcomes you may have from following their advice.
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