It's that time of year again—the holidays are right around the corner. For many people, school holidays are an opportunity to relax with family and loved ones, sharing memories with those who matter most.
But for co-parents, school holidays can also be a source of stress. Figuring out how to share custody during events like Spring Break, Easter, Memorial Day, Summer Break, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year can be difficult. Things only get more challenging if you're not on the best terms with your child's other parent.
Today, we're taking a deep dive into how you and your co-parent can prepare for school breaks, enabling you to share the moments that matter most with your child.
At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, we can help you protect your parental rights and your child's best interests during a custody battle or modification case.
Incorporate Decisions into Your Parenting Plan
First things first: You should incorporate whatever decisions you make about school holidays into your parenting plan once everything else is set in stone.
For children in co-parenting arrangements, consistency is incredibly important—especially if they're young. If you create a protocol for how to handle the holidays, including it in your court-ordered parenting plan makes it legally binding. That increases the chances of both parents dealing with the holidays in a similar way each year, giving some stability and a sense of routine to your child's life.
If you're just getting started with your custody dispute and don't know much about parenting plans, check out this blog we wrote on drafting the perfect parenting plan to know more.
It's also important to work with a lawyer as you develop your parenting plan, even if you're on good terms with your co-parent and want to work on the plan with them. An attorney can help you protect your parental rights and customize your parenting plan to fit your specific needs. At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, we'll work with you to create the ideal parenting plan for your situation.
Figure Out Your Kid's Schedule
You and your co-parent need to be on the same page regarding your kid's schedule. When do they take a break for Easter? What about Spring Break? Does the school host any events for specific holidays? Many schools host events like trick or treating or a Christmas potluck on-campus. If your child displays an interest in attending one of these events, you'll need to decide whether one or both of you will go with them.
The holidays are also a valuable time for your child to spend time with their friends. Who doesn't like sledding or having a snowball fight and then grabbing some hot cocoa with a pal? Or going on a multi-family trip for beach time, skiing, camping, or many other diversions. You need to discuss how you plan to schedule playdates with your co-parent. That includes what sort of activities you want your child to partake in and who you feel comfortable having your child spend time with over the school breaks.
It's also important to remember that many schools choose to host parent-teacher conferences over the holidays since teachers have more free time. Depending on your child's age and academic performance, this may also come with a conversation or two about their report card.
You should talk with your co-parent about who will attend those parent-teacher conferences. If possible, you should both consider going—that way, you'll both know how your child is doing without having to rely on second-hand information. However, if that's not possible, you should discuss how you want to handle the meetings—for example, you could ask the teacher to email the parent who can't attend with a quick write-up about your child's performance, or conference in the other parent via telephone.
Once you know what your kid will be doing over the holidays, it will be a lot easier to figure out how you want to split time across houses, what events you want to host, etc.
Plan Vacations Well in Advance
The holidays are a popular vacation time for many working parents. If you plan on taking a vacation and bringing your child along for the ride, discuss it with your co-parent as far in advance as you possibly can.
The last thing you want to do is end up in a situation where both parents schedule vacations for the same time period, and one person has to cancel their plans.
Depending on how your custody arrangement is scheduled, there's a good chance that taking a vacation with your kid will technically violate the terms of your custody order. For example, let's say you're on a 5-2 custody plan where each parent gets custody of their child for five days, then for two days, and then the cycle repeats. If you want to go on a week-long vacation with your child, you need to go over on the number of days you're supposed to consecutively have custody.
Think ahead and incorporate specific terms for vacations into the parenting plan. For example, include a clause stating that each parent can have custody for seven consecutive days on a vacation as long as the other parent approves in writing and gets seven days of custody themself to make up for the lost time. Not only does putting provisions for vacations in your parenting plan help prevent conflict with your co-parent, but you're also protecting yourself legally.
Talk About Your Work Schedules
If you and your co-parent work full-time, figuring out how to care for your kid during school holidays can be tricky (especially if they're not old enough to look after themself). You may each get some time off, but when combined, Spring, Summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, breaks are usually much longer than one’s allotted vacation time from work.
As a result, you'll probably need to find an alternative method of caring for your child. That might be a family member, such as a grandparent, or a childcare center. Whatever you choose, you should discuss it with your co-parent and make sure they're on board with your decision.
If you don't think a certain family member is fit to care for your child (or vice versa), the last thing you need is the stress of that individual watching your kid while you or your co-parent is at work. It may be simpler to find a childcare facility you both approve instead. Again, making official provisions for who can care for your child in your parenting plan is recommended to avoid conflicts and legal disputes.
Discuss Gift-Giving with Each Other
You should also talk with your co-parent about what gifts you want to give your child. If your kid has their eye on a gift that's slightly out of your budget, maybe you can pool funds together to get them that new phone or video game console they want. Discussing gifts with one another is also vital if you want to avoid the dreaded scenario of getting your kid the same thing as your co-parent and having to stand in a line for refunds the day after birthdays or Christmas.
Decide How You'll Split Time Over the Holidays
When it comes to determining how you split time over the holidays, you've got a few options:
- Split hours across holidays. For example, your co-parent spends the first half of Christmas with your child, and then your child visits you for the second half of the day. If you both highly value specific holidays, this can be a good way to share time with your child during an important moment.
- Give each holiday to one parent. For example, you get to spend President’s Day and Easter with your kid, but your co-parent gets them for Spring Break. This may seem counterintuitive, but it's often a good solution when co-parents aren't on good terms. Having your child spend a full holiday with each parent enables them to bask in the moment, and it can be far less stressful than splitting each holiday up between the parents. Plus, you can always celebrate the holiday you miss informally when you have custody of your child again.
- Spend the holidays together. If you're on good terms with your co-parent, this is a great option. Your child gets to see both of you on an important day and doesn't have to feel guilty about missing out on time with one of their parents. If you and your co-parent have partners, this is also a good opportunity to get comfortable with that dynamic. If you can all prioritize your child and celebrate good times together, it can be a wonderful time.
You may want to discuss your options with a neutral third party, like a family counselor, before you make any final decisions. The further in advance you make your decision, the easier it will be for everyone. Although we know it's like a broken record at this point, you should absolutely integrate your decision into your parenting plan to avoid any squabbles.
We hope this guide helps you prepare for school holidays with your co-parent and child. At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, we're here for you if you need help with your child custody order—whether that means standing by you throughout a custody battle or helping you file for a modification order after the fact.
To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (940) 293-2313.