Focus and Law

Divvying up holiday time can be difficult for divorced parents

A specific plan will go a long way toward creating happy holidays.

November 28, 2014
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Parents who disagree about sharing their children over the holidays can find themselves in a courtroom. Courtesy Thinkstock

The holiday season is here and with it comes many stresses, including shopping, dinner preparation, kids home for winter break and figuring out holiday plans.

For divorced parents with children, trying to agree on holiday arrangements can lead back to the courtroom.

Richard Roane, an attorney with Warner Norcross, said he always gets calls around the middle of November from clients who are struggling to come to an agreement with their ex regarding who gets the kids for holiday celebrations.

He said the experience isn’t limited to newly divorced families; even divorced parents who have gotten along amicably for years can find themselves in a disagreement over holiday arrangements, especially as new relationships occur.

Roane has three tips to help divorced parents get through the holiday season with a minimum impact on families and kids.

Tip No. 1 is: “Be fair.”

“What one parent thinks is fair might not be fair to the other parent,” he noted.

Tip No. 2 is: “Share.”

“You have to share your kids,” Roane said. “You can’t have all of Christmas Eve and all of Christmas day and all of the vacation every single year.”

Tip No. 3 is: “Be specific in your parenting time agreements.”

Roane said divorced parents should be detailed when they create parenting time agreements to mitigate disagreements down the road.

“If you have a provision that says the parents will share the holidays as they mutually agree — and that’s all it says, as long as people are getting along you will have mutual agreements. But when the mutual agreement breaks down and you don’t have anything specific, you may likely end up back in court. And that is what you want to avoid,” he said.

He said even splitting up the Christmas holiday by saying one parent gets the kids on Christmas Eve and the other gets them on Christmas Day isn’t specific enough.

“When does Christmas Eve start?” he asked. “When does it end?”

He said, technically, Christmas Eve ends at midnight and Christmas Day ends a 12:01 a.m. Divorced parents will want to make sure they’ve agreed on pick-up and drop-off times that work and are specific enough not to cause an issue because mom and dad had different ideas of when their time started or ended.

Finally, if a disagreement persists, reach out to your attorney sooner rather than later.

“If you wait until the middle of December to talk to your lawyer because you’ve reached an impasse, you aren’t going to have time to get into court and have a decision made before the holiday, and then there is disappointment all the way around,” Roane said.

He also noted there are plenty of multicultural families who might be celebrating holidays from more than one religious tradition, and there needs to be sensitivity to that, as well.

For example, possibly dad has remarried and now rather than just celebrating Christmas, he wants his kids to be around for Hanukkah, too, because it’s an important part of his new wife’s religion.

“The legal system — the lawyers and judges — need to be sensitive to those other cultural celebrations, as well,” Roane said.

Roane’s big message is that the holidays are stressful enough so parents need to remember to put their kids first.

“Keep in mind fairness, sharing and trying to work your disputes out so you can enjoy the holidays rather than dread the holidays,” he said.

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