Holiday Parenting Time: Plan Ahead and Put it in Writing

girl with christmas ornamentFor divorce attorneys, ’tis the season for parenting schedule disputes. All too often, the spouses who agreed they would “split the holidays equally” cannot determine exactly what that means. Consider a scenario where dad’s family lives in northern Michigan (an eight hour drive) and the oldest child has an ice hockey tournament in Illinois two days after Christmas or the youngest child is only 2 months old and mom is reluctant to spend a week away from the baby. Suddenly, the once amicable pair who had an agreement to “split the vacations equally” and “alternate” the holidays gets complicated quickly.

Every year, we see clients spend significant sums of money litigating which parent shall have holiday parenting time. At the root of the problem is typically a vague divorce decree that failed to include any detail about holiday parenting time. In most cases, the decree says something like, “The parties shall alternate holidays and split them equally.” Which holidays? Does that mean split the whole vacation break 50/50 or alternate the whole break? No one knows and , you can be sure, no one agrees. At the time the agreement is entered, of course, no one thinks it will ever be a problem because the parties got along back then.

In Illinois, there is no general rule of law that parents must enter into a Parenting Plan. A Parenting Plan is a legal document that details the responsibilities of each parent following the divorce. In additional to general parenting guidelines about conduct and communication, the Plan should  include the holiday and regular parenting schedules. The Plan can be as detailed or open ended as you want it to be. You can always agree with your ex-spouse to modify it.

Before finalizing your divorce, it is important to ensure you feel secure in your parenting schedule and to envision any number of scenarios (within reason) that may arise, whether related to the holidays or regular days. You lawyer should impress upon you the importance of putting any agreement in writing. A little planning now may go a long way later.

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