Blog 3: Fa Law Law Law Law
Santa comes in 40 days! I know. I even got a little sick when I typed that. Every year, the holiday decorations seem to come out earlier and earlier. If you are divorced or in the middle of dissolution proceedings, then you really need to plan ahead. The courts are already filled with litigants who can’t figure out holiday timesharing issues. If you are just figuring out that you can’t agree now, your attorney is likely telling you that you have missed the proverbial boat. Holiday timesharing motions really need to be filed by September in order for them to be heard before the actual holiday season occurs. The best thing to do is just figure it out yourselves.
When it’s the first year splitting holidays with kids, parents run into some snags, especially if there isn’t a court order addressing holiday timesharing. It is best for everyone when the parents figure out that they are the grownups. If someone has to take one for the team, then it should be a grownup, not the kids. Many of us have fond memories of big family holidays. I know I’ll never forget running around in my grandparents’ house with all of my cousins. I couldn’t wait to get to Grandma’s to show off my new dress or play with my new toy all day and eat cookies. We would stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s until it got dark and then we’d pile into our car and make the drive home and eat leftovers for dinner that night and for days after. Good times. My parents were married though. I didn’t have to leave my cousins to go to a different holiday dinner. I came and left with the same two parents to every holiday every year. So how do I make it fun for my son to have happy holidays with both myself and my ex-husband? This is our first year, so I’ll have to report after January 1st to let you know how we all made it through, but I can share our plan.
A typical holiday timesharing schedule has the parents splitting the holidays. For example, if you have your kids on Thanksgiving weekend, then you don’t also get them for Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning. That’s not fair. Your kids have a right to spend holidays with both parents. The Fourth Judicial Circuit Guidelines (for the Jacksonville, Florida area) provide that, if you get your kids on Thanksgiving, then you get the kids for the second part of Winter Break, starting on Christmas Day in the afternoon. If parents can’t agree on something better, then the Fourth Judicial Guidelines are pretty fair except for the fact that in any given year Winter Break can be severely lopsided. This year, for example, the parent who gets the children for the beginning part of Winter Break will have four overnights during the break and the parent who has the latter part of the break will have 8 overnights if the kids get out of school on December 21st and return on January 2nd. Christmas falls on a different day of the week every year and depending on where it falls and what the school districts decide, either parent might get less time with the kids.
Someone has to kick off the discussion regarding how the holidays are going to happen. In my situation, I was the one to start that conversation with my ex-husband. I knew that whatever happened, there would still be turkey and dressing on Thanksgiving. On Christmas Eve, there would be pickled herring and eggnog after singing carols and presents on Christmas Day. These are traditions that I have decided that I would carry on from my family. I realize these were the traditions that I made sure happened during my marriage. Now, I recognize that my ex-husband may take or leave these traditions to begin new ones of his own with our son. That’s fair enough. I also recognize that due to the distance between our family, in Florida, and my ex-husband’s family in Wisconsin and Michigan, our son has never had Thanksgiving or Christmas with my in-laws. Are they still my in-laws? Are they now my out-laws? I’ll have a law clerk get right on researching that one, but I digress. My judgment doesn’t have a strict his and hers split for the holidays. Since we settled our case out of court we had the freedom to fashion a very Utopian and feel good holiday section of our parenting plan that will do absolutely no good to the court or to either of us if the schnitzel hits the fan. Our agreement refers to the “spirit of the agreement” and “sharing” and the idea that we work together so that our son gets the benefit of both of our families during the holidays. My ex initially thought he would be going to the Midwest for Thanksgiving. I offered to pay for a portion of our son’s ticket so that they could go. Plans changed so we flexed. My ex is going to be in town and plans to attend a Thanksgiving dinner with friends of his. Instead of taking our son for Thanksgiving, he acknowledged that holidays are about family and since my parents and I would be spending the day together, that I could have our son for the day. Instead of opportunistically cutting my baby daddy out of the holiday, I asked him if he wanted any of the long weekend and he is happy to take it. The key here is flex. None of it has happened yet so we’ll have to wait to see if the plan falls apart, but I suspect that we will continue to flex.
I have to admit that our Christmas situation has given me a little heartburn. I have to also admit that my gracious offering of Thanksgiving was really made easy because my ex had plans to be out of the country for Christmas. I knew that I was super lucky to be getting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the very first year of our holiday timesharing. I love Christmas and for me that was HUGE! I had a mini-stroke when my ex told me that his plans changed and that he would be in the country for Christmas. I recovered quickly when he said that he would still be out of town. Last night, I was delivered a bit of a blow when he told me that he isn’t going out of town until the day after Christmas, so he wanted to know what we could work out. Throat closing, cannot breathe, seeing stars . . . SEEING RED! I did not, however, overreact. I was cooler than the other side of the pillow. I really do want my son to see his daddy on Christmas. He is going to want to show off what he got from Santa and I’ll bet Santa is going to stop at Daddy’s too . . . blah, blah, flex . . . I asked what he had in mind. He said he’d like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but not all of it. Okay. So I thought about what was important to me. I really want to go to church for the Christmas Eve service and have pickled herring and eggnog when we get back to the house. Kids hate pickled herring but my kid LOVES eggnog. So I knew he would enjoy that part and he would like the singing part of church (he’s only 3 - don’t be judgy about the religious stuff). I asked if my ex would like Christmas Eve until 6:30 or so. He seemed fine with that and said that he will have friends staying with him so he couldn’t really do the overnight anyway. After I heard that, everything seemed to fall into place. My ex isn’t an early riser so I knew I was home free at that point. I asked him if he wanted me to change my Christmas Dinner to a Christmas Brunch so that he could get our son by noon on Christmas and he said that would probably work. Again, all of this hasn’t happened yet so I’m sure I’ll stress out plenty until everything falls in line like it always does.
The bottom line is that parents shouldn’t be greedy. I fully expect that next year I may get neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas, but this year I got the whole enchilada by being more generous to my ex than I needed to be and he has certainly responded in kind by being more than generous to me. I hope it will make for a happy holiday season for all three of us.
I know this is a very long blog. I suppose I am making up for missing last week, but I’m going to close with some do’s and don’ts for the holiday season:
- Do make the best of your time with your child. Just because you might not have the exact date or hour that you wanted, doesn’t make your time with your child any less special. Your child won’t remember that you exchanged gifts two days before Christmas, he will remember the look on your face when you opened the multi-colored candy dish that he made you in art class.
- Do encourage you child to enjoy the time he spends with your spouse or former spouse. Your child will likely be upset that she isn’t spending time with both you and your spouse during the holidays. Make separate holidays easier by letting your child know that it’s okay with you that she has a good time with her mom.
- Don’t disparage your spouse or your spouse’s family in front of your child. Slamming your ex-mother-in-law’s bad cooking or inability to give good gifts is bad for your child, who has to go over to Grandma’s house and eat turkey with lumpy gravy and look excited when he opens a pack of tube socks. You shouldn’t make that harder.
- Don’t make last minute requests to change plans unless it can’t be avoided. I’m a huge fan of being flexible and cooperative, but please be respectful of the fact that your spouse or former spouse has made the same efforts you have to carefully plan for the holidays. Changing the day you want to go visit your Grandma with the children to the day that your husband already made plans to bake cookies with the kids interferes with your spouse’s plans and with your children’s plans. Both of you had months to plan.
Be kind to each other and let your kids enjoy the holidays without feeling like Thanksgiving is Daddy’s and Christmas is Mommy’s. Let them know that both you and your spouse know that all the holidays are for the enjoyment of the children. Let them know by making the holidays about them and not you.
Corrine Bylund, Esquire
Zisser, Brown, Nowlis, & Cabrey P.A.
One Independent Drive #3306
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Zisser, Brown, Nowlis, & Cabrey P.A.
One Independent Drive #3306
Jacksonville, FL 32202