The holidays are a stressful time for many. Between social obligations, travel, and childcare, conditions for many families can become tense during the holidays. That tension is likely to be exacerbated for divorced parents and their children, as the parents and children must navigate not one but two schedules. The holidays can also be tricky for newly divorced couples who may struggle to navigate these new considerations, while their children may feel a sense of profound loss. While no holiday season is ever stress-free, creating a solid parenting plan for the holidays can at least lessen its impact. Below are a few pointers for doing so from our Alpharetta divorce lawyers.
Establish a Schedule to Minimize Conflicts Between Regular Parenting Time and the Holidays
Tensions often arise between parents when the holidays disrupt their regular parenting schedule, which can occur when one parent’s regularly scheduled parenting time falls on a holiday that was awarded to the other parent. Generally, the parent with the holiday parenting time will have priority over the parent with regularly scheduled parenting time. However, one can minimize potential conflicts by establishing an alternating holiday schedule.
For example, one could use a traditional even/odd schedule that assigns Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to Parent A in even years and Parent B in odd years. Or, for a more creative solution, one could split the holiday season into two halves — the first period beginning when school lets out and ending on the morning of December 26, and the second beginning on the morning of December 26 and ending when school resumes. In even-numbered years, Parent A could be entitled to the first period, and Parent B could be entitled to the second period. In odd-numbered years, the arrangement could switch, with Parent B being entitled to the first period and Parent A being entitled to the second period. Establishing a fair and equitable holiday schedule ahead of time can help to minimize future conflicts.
Address Travel Habits and Expectations
Even with a solid holiday parenting schedule in place, travel can often wreak havoc on a family’s holiday plans. Conflict often arises, for example, when one parent moves away after a divorce and takes one or more of the children with them or when previous holiday traditions involved travel to distant locations to see extended family on one side or the other. If your holiday schedules usually involve travel, be sure to factor that in when making a holiday parenting time schedule. For example, some holiday parenting plans limit travel to certain dates or time frames (“Father has the option to travel outside the state of Georgia with the children beginning on the morning of December 24 and lasting until the evening of December 26”). Others assign parenting time with built-in contingencies for travel (“Every odd year, Father may travel outside the state of Georgia with the children beginning on the morning of December 24 and lasting until the evening of December 26; however, should Father remain in the Atlanta metropolitan area, Father shall have Christmas Eve and overnight and Mother shall have Christmas Day and overnight”). Holiday-related travel need not cause conflict when both parents address their travel habits and expectations and build them into their holiday parenting plans.
Special Considerations for COVID-19
Holiday travel in 2020 is likely to be different from years past due to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many families who would ordinarily travel during the holidays may opt not to do so this year, while those who intend to keep their travel plans face a higher risk of exposure to the virus. While COVID-19 has brought about a series of rapid changes in our society, the pandemic generally is not a valid basis for changing a parenting plan or opting out of holiday-related travel when it is required by a parenting plan. Should you wish to modify your child custody agreement to take COVID-19-related concerns into account, you should discuss the modification with the other parent, come to an agreement, and submit your revised plan to the court for approval. Unauthorized deviations from established child custody agreements can subject either parent to potential legal liability. Please contact one of our Alpharetta divorce lawyers if you are considering making COVID-19-related changes to your child custody agreement or parenting plan.
Decide Which Holidays Will Be Celebrated — and How
It may seem obvious, but deciding which holidays will be celebrated (and how) is a fundamental element of any holiday parenting plan — particularly when the parents celebrate different holidays or have different ideas about how holidays should be celebrated. For example, one parent may celebrate Christmas and wish to pass along that tradition, while the other may celebrate Hanukkah and likewise want to continue that tradition. In other cases, one parent may prefer to engage in more religious activities at Christmas, while the other parent may wish to minimize religious observance. Discussing these issues in advance and being willing to compromise with the other parent can ensure that often-contentious holiday plans go as smoothly as possible.
Consider What Is Best for the Children
The best interests of the children should be paramount when establishing any holiday parenting time plan. While many divorcing couples fall victim to the urge to engage in a tit-for-tat with their former spouse over a child custody plan, this can cause long-term harm to the children, particularly when it affects the holidays. When crafting a holiday parenting plan, consider what is most important to the children. For example, if the children typically engage in a particularly cherished Christmas tradition with one parent’s extended family, allow the children to spend time with that parent on Christmas. Maintaining continuity of traditions post-divorce can lessen the traumatic effects of family split-ups on children.
Contact Our Alpharetta Divorce Lawyers for Help with Holiday Parenting Plans
If you are having difficulty establishing a holiday parenting plan that works, you should consider seeking an attorney’s advice. To get started, please contact the Alpharetta divorce lawyers at Hait & Kuhn by using our online form or calling us at either of our metro Atlanta locations: Alpharetta (770-517-0045) or Woodstock (678-888-0198).