By Michelle L. Searcy
As we approach the holiday season, people experience increased anxiety. Between coordinating family events, preparing food, and spending money beyond the normal monthly budget, everyone feels the pressure of creating life-long memories for their loved ones. After a divorce, this pressure increases as we hope to reassure our children that holiday celebrations will still be a source of joy. Having a well-crafted holiday parenting time schedule in your parenting plan helps to avoid unnecessary conflict during the holidays.
As with all parenting time, the best interests of the child standard in section 14-10-124, C.R.S. applies to holiday parenting time. Of the factors the Court uses to determine the best interests of the child, two are particularly important to the issue of holiday parenting time. First, the ability to place the needs of the child ahead of your own. Second, the ability to encourage the sharing of love, affection and contact with the other parent. Unfortunately, in over a decade practicing family law, I have witnessed good people become unreasonable when it comes to holidays.
When negotiating parenting time in general, and holiday parenting time in particular, a parent should always consider how he or she would react if, for example, the other parent wanted the children every Fourth of July or other holiday. I understand the delight experienced watching a small child wake up on Christmas morning, as well as the sadness of missing such an experience. However, it is important to keep in mind that no child has ever complained about having two holiday celebrations. If you and the other parent celebrate different holidays, you may be able to follow a holiday schedule where you spend all of these important days with your children. Most people do not have this luxury. So, as difficult as it is, you must plan to share holidays with your ex.
While it may seem simple to alternate holidays on a year-on, year-off basis, it is vital to include enough details in the holiday schedule to avoid conflict. For instance, if you have Christmas Eve and the other parent has Christmas Day, when will you exchange the children? Do you plan to have them dressed and out the door by 9:00 am or will you exchange them later in the day? Does it make more sense to have them spend both days with one parent so that they can enjoy the holiday without worrying about getting ready and going to the other parent’s celebration? The answers are different depending on how you and your family celebrate, but it is important to think this through before committing to a holiday schedule. While I advocate for specific times for an exchange to be included in the Parenting Plan, I also encourage some flexibility in practice. The key to a well written parenting plan is detail.
Aside from the time of day that the children will be exchanged, another source of conflict is which day the children will go to the other parent. Do holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day include the entire weekend or just the holiday itself? If you have regular parenting time every Monday, are you sacrificing more time with the children than the other parent? Does Easter include Spring Break if they coincide? Should Halloween be included in the holiday schedule? What about the child’s birthday? What about your birthday? Some holidays and special days may matter more than others. Once again, adding specific language helps avoid disagreements that could have a lasting impact on the child.
While arguments about holidays should not have a lasting impact on your child, your parenting plan should. Often, parents going through a divorce or break-up just want to get a parenting plan in place quickly so that they and their children can get on with life. If your children are very young, you should consider future changes to their lives in agreeing on a parenting time schedule. Your two-year-old may not have a Spring or Winter Break, but your seven-year-old will. You may find it difficult and expensive to modify parenting time as these changes occur, so try to anticipate these events and address them in your initial parenting plan.
By considering the details of holiday parenting time and anticipating the future, you should be able to agree on a holiday parenting schedule that assures happy memories for your children. As heartbroken as you may be missing out on some of those memories, please do not share that sadness with your children. Allow them to enjoy time with the other parent without guilt or concern over your well-being. And remember, if you and the other parent cannot agree, the Court will order a holiday schedule that may or may not have enough detail to help you avoid conflict during times that are already packed full.