With winter in full swing, it seems strange to discuss child custody and spring break. However, believe it or not, spring is right around the corner. So is spring break, and it is not too soon to start planning your child custody schedule. Early planning avoids last-minute surprises, disagreement, and disappointment.
Child Custody and Spring Break: Planning During Custody Negotiation
The best time to make agreements for spring break is during negotiation in the divorce. Unlike most holidays, however, different schools have different spring break schedules. As a result, spring break allows for flexibility when determining custody arrangements.
Spring break allows at least four different solutions to custody and visitation issues, including:
- Spit spring break in half. One parent has custody the first half of the break and the other parent has the second half of the break.
- Alternate spring break custody each year. One parent has custody on even numbered years and the other has custody on odd numbered years.
- Allow one parent custody of the child while the other parent has custody for a different week, such as for a summer vacation. This works when one parent values a warm break from winter and the other parent prefers a summer vacation with the kids.
- Work spring break into the holiday schedule. Perhaps in your family, there is no reason to treat spring break differently than any other holiday.
This list is not exclusive. Parents establish whatever spring break schedule works best for their family.
Child Custody and Spring Break: Be Flexible
Flexibility is important in all scheduling issues for child custody. Working together with your ex-spouse is crucial to the well-being of your children. This is not a win or lose situation for you. Rather, consider the great opportunity available to your children. For example, if the spring break schedule calls for you to have custody, but your ex-spouse has an opportunity to take the children on a great vacation this year, consider allowing them this experience. If you are able to work together, your ex-spouse should allow you the same courtesy. Flexibility shows your children that you as parents are able to work together for their best interests.
If the divorce occurred when the children was young, it is impossible to anticipate changes that will inevitably occur in the lives of the children. This includes the activities the children will participate in when they are older. The parties must be able to work out changes to custody schedules, including spring break, among themselves. Otherwise, the custody schedule issue will be resolved in court. In those cases, a judge that does not really know the parties and their families will make a decision for the parties.
Child Custody and Spring Break: Consider the Work Schedules of the Parents
Perhaps one parent is able to take time off for work and the other parent is not. It does not make sense to have the children sitting home alone when the other parent could be available. Depending on the age of the children, spring break creates child care issues. Remember, think realistically when planning. A fabulous spring break to a warm location every year would be great, but not everyone can afford that financially or get the necessary time off work.
Child Custody and Spring Break: Consider the Schedules of the Children
Do not consider only what works for the parents. What works for the children? Do any extracurricular curricular activities affect the spring break schedule? Further, this changes over time. As discussed above, this is where flexibility is important.
Do not assume you know what the children will want to do. Scheduling an elaborate spring break as a surprise for your children seems like a good idea, but can create problems. Children make plans with friends over spring break. Scheduling problems increase with the age of your children.
Do your children have jobs? Children with jobs often work over spring break to earn more money. Even part-time jobs make it difficult for your kids to get away over spring break.
Child Custody and Spring Break: Consider Family Traditions
In some families, spring break is just another school vacation. In these cases, planning for spring break has no emotional attachment. In other families, one of the parents makes special plans for spring break. Perhaps his or her extended family takes a vacation together over spring break. Preserving these traditions is important for children. Consider these traditions when establishing custody schedules or when resolving scheduling issues by mutual agreement.
Child Custody and Spring Break: Keep the Schedule Simple
Spring break custody schedules will be in place for years. The parties, and more importantly, the children, must be able to easily understand the custody schedule. Children need stability and something to look forward to. A special spring break with one of their parents is not only fun, it gives them something to talk to their friends at school about. Confusion about the spring break schedule does not allow this and can lead to disappointment. Even if the divorce agreement says the parties will mutually determine spring break plans every year, the parents must do so as soon as possible. Preferably, this will be shortly after the Christmas / New Year’s break, if not before.
Child Custody and Spring Break: Have a Back-up Plan
Divorcing parents can include language in divorce decree such as language providing for a future agreement the parties will work out spring break custody each year. Even when divorced parents have a positive relationship, vague future plans can result in confusion and complications. However, changes in the relationship between the parents must be considered when drafting a divorce settlement. Include back-up language in case the parties cannot agree on a schedule for spring break. For example, if the parties can no longer agree on spring break scheduling, parent one has custody on even years and parent two has custody on odd years.
Child Custody and Spring Break: Have Fun
For many families, holidays bring stress. Christmas creates expectations. Did I purchase all of my gifts? Will my children like the gifts I bought them? Thanksgiving requires work. The house needs to be cleaned to the high standards of your mother-in-law. Meals must be prepared. Will your sister bring her cranberry sauce again this year?
Make spring break different. With proper planning, spring break can be fun for your family without the stress.
If you are considering divorce, consider hiring the family law attorneys at Fait & DiLima. Our attorneys focus exclusively on family law issues. Let us put our experience to work for you.