How to Avoid Holiday Parenting Time Headaches

Halloween is behind us and Thanksgiving is just a week away. With Christmas and New Year’s not far behind, ‘tis the season for holiday parenting time headaches. Here are some guidelines to keep your Thanksgiving happy and your Christmas merry and bright.

Holiday Parenting Time Takes Priority

One of the biggest questions family law clients have in enforcing their new parenting time order is:

“What happens when a holiday lands on my parenting time?”

Holiday parenting time is always the top priority. It overrules any other parenting time or visitation schedules. That’s true whether you are the custodial parent or only get weekend parenting time. Yes, sometimes that will mean that a non-custodial parent will lose precious overnights to the custodial parent’s holidays. But the reverse is true too. In most cases, each party receives half of the holidays. If a holiday lands on your parenting time this year, there is a good chance that next year it will be the other parent who loses a day.

Holiday Parenting Time Can Be Flexible

Most Michigan counties have a parenting time plan that includes a very specific holiday parenting time schedule. It divides days and even hours of the day between the parties to make everything fair. If you and your ex have trouble agreeing on the time of day, that rigidity can be helpful to make sure your children have time with both parents around the holidays.

But every custody or parenting time order also says “or as otherwise agreed to by the parties.” That gives you and your co-parent flexibility. If your family get together always happens on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, or this year, he wants to take the kids with him to Grandma’s house for Christmas, you are allowed to say yes. As long as both parties agree to a different schedule, the court will enforce your agreement.

Start your parenting time negotiations as early as possible, so your co-parent isn’t surprised. Let her know what your plans are and ask (don’t demand) if there is a way to make them work. It is in the children’s best interest to have easy access to both sides’ extended families. So if you get such a request, try to be flexible, keeping the kids’ wants and needs in mind.

Also tell your spouse what you are willing to give up to make it happen. For example, if you want to go out of town for Thanksgiving (say Wednesday through Sunday – 4 overnights) offer to give him Christmas Eve through December 28 (4 overnights). Or if you want the kids with you for midnight mass on Christmas Eve, offer to drop them off at her house after the service so they can wake up to stockings Christmas Day.

Holiday Parenting Time Can Be Modified

The standard holiday parenting time division doesn’t work for every case. When families are religious or have different traditions, there may be days you consider important or sacred that don’t show up at all in the order. Tell your family law attorney what holidays are important for you. Religious and secular holidays, family reunions, and even regular vacation times can be included in your custody and parenting time order if you give your attorney enough warning. Thinking ahead during your initial custody case can do a lot to avoid holiday parenting time headaches later on.

Holiday parenting time doesn’t have to be painful. By understanding your order, and how to change it, you can find a solution that works for your family year after year. If you need help negotiating your holiday parenting time schedule, contact family law attorney Lisa J. Schmidt of Schmidt & Long, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan for a free initial consultation. She’ll go to work for you so you can have a happy holiday.