Holiday parenting time can be a test of wills each year

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

The stores have already hung light displays, set up Christmas trees, and mailed out the yearly holiday toy catalogues. Every year it seems the preparation starts earlier, and it’s not a bad idea to start your holiday “parenting time” preparation now too.  

Courts are inundated with motions and complaints relative to holiday parenting time, which for many families means a different schedule than what they regularly exercise throughout the year. Holiday parenting time takes precedence over regular parenting time, meaning that if it’s Sally’s regular weekend time, but Tom’s Christmas Eve falls on her Saturday, Tom’s holiday “trumps” and he receives the Saturday.  

As much as we tell people to clearly spell out holiday parenting time in their court order, many still stick with “as the parties agree.”  This language cannot be enforced in court as it has no specificity. If the parties have a wonderful relationship, there isn’t anything to worry about; however, relationships change over time and not always for the better. Putting in a default or backup schedule is the safest way to go – if you still have a good relationship, then you can exercise it as you agree, but if you have a disagreement, you have something to fall back on.

Talk to your former spouse about holiday parenting time now, so if there is any confusion with your court order, you have time to resolve it. If you don’t have a court order that contains specific holiday parenting time, you can try to work it out before Santa comes down the chimney.  If you are denied parenting time over the holidays, you can file a complaint with your Friend of the Court. While any resolution can’t give you back the missed holiday, you can receive make-up parenting time.

Something else I hear more often than I’d like is that parents withhold holiday gifts until “your mom/dad is fair about parenting time/custody/the color of the sky,” or “when my support is lowered, I can afford to buy you gifts.” In effect, you are telling your child that their mom or dad is solely to blame for the child’s disappointment.  Behavior like this does not encourage a close parent-child relationship, and further deteriorates the chances of successful co-parenting. Kids will share what you said with the other parent, which may be the goal for the parent who said it. Explaining legal and adult concepts with children is often not possible and it should not be encouraged.  Your children should be worried about how many Pokemon© they are going to catch, not a court order.

If your child receives a gift at the holidays and wants to take it to the other parent’s home, remember that it is the child’s gift, and give them the chance to show that they can be responsible with toys and belongings. If you would let them take it to a friend’s house, they should be able to take it to the other parent’s home.

The holidays are a time where good co-parenting skills are especially beneficial – be kind, flexible and understanding, or you might end up on the naughty list.

(The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.) 

 

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