It’s rare, but it has happened: my office will get a phone call days before a holiday with one furious parent huffing, “I’m supposed to have the kids for this holiday!”
Oops. Let’s take a look at how to avoid nasty custody battles after the divorce is settled.
Do Not “Play it by Ear”
One of the biggest mistakes a divorcing couple can make is to think, “Oh, we’re getting along right now, so we don’t need to create specific rules about who will get the kids on each holiday. We’ll just work it out when we get to that point.”
Sure, you can build in some flexibility, but I tell my clients to have a schedule that is sufficiently detailed so, if things are not going as smoothly, you have enough details to know how the holiday will be divided. Here’s an example of how things can go wrong if you don’t put a detailed holiday custody schedule in place:
I was contacted by a recently-divorced woman who was very upset about a situation she was dealing with regarding a holiday parenting schedule. (When I tell this story, I always emphasize that I didn’t do this divorce; had I been involved earlier in the process, I would have made sure that this situation would never have occurred.)
The children primarily lived with the father, but mother got every spring break. This woman’s aunt had recently passed away and left her a nice chunk of money. She had the idea to take her two children to Disneyland for spring break. Her thinking was that since they get out of school on a Friday, she could pick them up from their father’s house on Saturday morning, fly to California, and bring them back the following Sunday afternoon so they’d make it in time to go to school on Monday morning.
However, the father had a different idea. When told of mother’s plans, he said, “My interpretation is that spring break is a school vacation. School vacation is when the children normally go to school but don’t because of the vacation. The kids would normally not go to school on the weekends, so in my opinion, spring break starts on Monday at 8 am and ends on Friday at 3 pm.”
Essentially, he was telling her that she could only have the girls Monday through Friday, and not the weekends bookending spring break. [He was jealous she could afford to do something with the children that he could not afford.]
Of course, this caused a lot of strife between the two parents, not to mention that it meant the kids had their trip to Disneyland cut almost in half. How could they have avoided this situation? Simple. They should have created an agreement at the beginning that specified that spring break started the morning the children got out of school and ended on the afternoon before the children returned to school.
The bottom line is that in every parenting agreement, there should be sufficient detail to avoid conflict like this. The details are crucial.
I have run into similar issues with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July… you name it. Every agreement says that Mom gets the kids on Mother’s Day, but what does that really mean? Does it start at noon? The night before? Is it an overnight on Sunday?
We really hope that people get along after the divorce and have the capacity to work out details like this in a mature way, but putting sufficient detail in the agreement helps everyone. Besides the fact that it eliminates petty arguments, you can minimize the impact on the kids when they’re caught between two arguing adults.
If you’re recently divorced or looking at getting divorced, do your future self a favor and keep in mind that you’ll need to know the answers to these custody questions. Call us at 303-449-1873 to set up a free consultation.