Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Parenting Time Planning

One of the most significant parts of any parenting plan for divorcing or divorced parents is creating a parenting plan for the holidays.  While often attorneys and judges use the term, “standard visitation” there should be nothing standard about setting up a holiday parenting plan. The term, “standard visitation” is really an attempt to impose a cookie cutter solution to very individualized situation.  Each family brings to the table its own mix of traditions and circumstances and each family should have a well thought out plan as to how they and their children are going to spend the holidays.

During any every settlement conference and mediation a great portion of the time is devoted to putting together the parenting plan for the holidays.  While the school breaks and summer get a great deal of attention, the two main holidays that fall into contention are Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The children’s time at these two holidays is more precious than any real property and more contested.  This subject can be a great deal of stress for the parties and their attorneys while trying to hammer out a resolution.  

Preparation is essential for reaching plan for the holidays that best suits the children’s and family’s needs.  Having clear objectives and being able to articulate why those objectives are in the best interest of the children can allow for taking an strong positions in negotiations and mediations.  Further, the party able to articulate those objectives and rationales to the judge is most likely to see their holiday plans as an outcome at trial and avoid the trap of, “standard visitation”.

Below are some considerations to think about in putting a holiday parenting plan. 

Think of the Children First:  While it seems a restatement of the obvious, the first place to plan a holiday parenting plan is to think of what the children enjoy.   While the objective of the holiday parenting plan is to allow each of the parents to spend time with the children during the holiday, put thought into what the children enjoy doing.  While children cherish the time they spend with their families, children really enjoy being with other children. This especially holds true as children get older and as children begin to pull away from their parents and want to spend time with their own friends  They enjoy getting to see all of their relatives, but they do not enjoy being pulled from one event to the next for the sake of dividing their time. On the other hand the children may be looking forward to that special trip with the other parent. Remember that this is their holiday time.

Think of the Other Parent:  While this seems counterintuitive a little consideration of the other parent’s thoughts about the holidays can go a long way.  Remember that children have connections with extended family from both sides and the holidays are the time of year those connections are renewed.  Think about their family traditions and how they can fit into your plan for the holidays.  It is also important to minimize the number of stressful interactions with the other parent.  Reducing contacts can reduce friction and can prevent brining up hurtful memories. 
Think of your own Limitations:  While the holidays are filled with time off from school for children, the same is not always true for their parents.  For many, the holidays and year end are the busiest time of year at work and are unable to spend that additional; time with the children.  Understand your own stress at the holidays.  For some, the holidays are already a quagmire of stress without adding the strains of a dividing family at home.  By understanding your own limits you can plan your time with the children over the holidays that will deliver to them the best holiday experience.

Think Logistically:  With the traveling back and forth between the parents, there are a lot more considerations than go into holiday planning.  Understand that children do not like being separated from their new gifts at Christmas time, meaning more time packing, more time hauling luggage and more space for things.  Also, the holidays are the busiest travel times of the year.  Traffic on the roads may be heavier at time, meaning allowing more time driving between the exchanges.  Many of the businesses that parents rely as exchange locations are closed on the holidays.  In planning travel by air, the heavy holiday traffic added to possibility of winter weather need to be a part of any travel calculations.

Think Creatively:  With the change in the structure that takes place in a dividing family, this is the time to get creative.  Old traditions will not remain intact as the family and the family’s resources are pulled apart.  While most people are focused on the actual holiday and the old family traditions surrounding the holiday, however the reality is that these times are going to be shared between two households.  Generally, children enjoy a celebration, no matter when or where it is.  These holidays come with significant time from school and alternative celebrations can be planned.  Further, do not be limited to the actual breaks from school.  In addition, plan family gatherings for the weekends leading up to the holidays, or at other times of year.  With some planning new traditions can be created that will enrich the entire holiday experience.

Think Flexibly:  No matter how tight the plan for the holidays is, things can fall apart unexpectedly.  Remember the plan that fits for this year may not work out the same for next year or the years to come.  School calendars change, weather turns and any multitude of things can come up that can and will alter plans around the holidays.  Building these contingencies into a parenting plan can best help to deal the myriad of contingencies that can come up.  This is especially important when dealing with a parent who will insist on rigidly following the letter of the parenting plan.  The best way to be flexible it to plan for flexibility.

These are just a some considerations for putting together an effective holiday parenting plan.  By no means is this list of considerations exhaustive. For the best results in putting together any parenting plan, it is best to consult an experienced family lawyer.  

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