Co-parenting works best when there is an established sense of routine, allowing everyone, especially the children, to acclimate to a “new normal”. Whether the kids travel between their parents’ homes each week or spend weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other, following a regular pattern helps foster a sense of security and consistency for the whole family. This is easiest to accomplish during the regular school year, when each family member has a relatively predictable schedule that can be relied upon when creating a parenting plan.
For these same reasons, the winter holidays can throw a wrench into a family’s schedule with the kids out of school. When plans are in flux, everyone in the family may feel a sense of uncertainty, which can lead to tension and anxiety, even in the most amicable of situations. As we head into the festive season, this tension is a concern for many families, especially those heading into their first year-end holidays post-separation or divorce.
It’s important to consult any written separation agreement or court order that sets out a parenting schedule. It may address the standard arrangement (i.e., the one in place for the bulk of the year), but it may not specifically speak to the winter holidays. This is to allow the parents the flexibility to make plans that reflect each family member’s circumstances at the time, such as vacation allowances at work, parental finances, and the respective age of the child(ren).
However, if the agreement or order addresses scheduling for the festive season, it’s important to respect those terms. Alternatively, parents may work together to alter the plan to accommodate unforeseen options such as travel or extra-curricular activities.
Each parent may wish to take time off from work during the year-end to spend uninterrupted time with the children while they’re off of school or to take a family vacation. Since school winter breaks are relatively short, there is a strong potential for planned vacations to overlap if the parents don’t coordinate in advance. Open and honest communication and providing plenty of advanced notice are crucial to avoid conflict when making plans that could impact the other parent’s time with the children.
In addition, parents should attempt to balance the time the children spend with each parent in cases where plans might disrupt the regular schedule. If holiday plans with one parent overlap with time the children would ordinarily spend with the other, the parents should aim to allow extra time with the second parent to make up for that deficit. Conversely, parents should be open to these sorts of allowances rather than simply refusing anything that would force a change in the regular schedule.
As mentioned above, couples can include alternate parenting schedules for holiday breaks in their separation agreement if they expect the plans to remain relatively consistent from year to year.
In cases where a specific winter vacation schedule is not detailed in an order or parenting agreement, parents should aim to make a plan as early as possible and then set the plan out in writing. Having a specific schedule that all parties can easily reference, including dates of trips, time spent with each parent’s family, or changes in schedule due to holiday weekends, will help drastically reduce the potential for conflict or uncertainty throughout this celebratory time of year.
Don’t forget that the winter holidays are an exciting time for children of all ages. Especially as they grow older, children may have their own ideas of how they would like to spend their time, which might include participating in sports, spending time with friends from school, or getting a part-time job to save money. As kids age, it is increasingly important that parents include them in the planning process as much as possible to ensure that everyone in the family is on board.
At the same time, this consultation with the children must not be used by parents as an opportunity to paint the other parent in a negative light or pressure the children to choose to spend time with one parent (and their extended family) over the other. Collaborative communication between the parents is vital for a child’s overall well-being. If or when conflict does occur, parents should do their best to resolve it without involving the children.
Mincher Koeman is one of the leading family law firms in Alberta. Our knowledgeable divorce lawyers represent clients in a full range of parenting matters, including issues of decision-making ability, parenting time, and child support. We take all steps to pursue a mutual resolution, whether the parties’ relationship is amicable or involves a high degree of conflict. Our team is also prepared to advocate vigorously for our clients in court when needed.
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