How to Handle the Holidays Through Divorce
By Bob Derber
For newly separated parents and for veterans of divorced parenting, the holidays always present challenges for mom and dad. Perhaps you have a custodial order in place that specifies when each parent has the children during holidays.
These orders sometimes only address the day of the holiday itself and not the entire vacation period. Often, the order was made long ago and does not account for current circumstances.
Holiday family visits and travel opportunities may conflict with your order. It is also a time of parent-teacher conferences and holiday school events, like a Christmas play, where separated parents will be together. Perhaps grandparents and cousins are visiting at a time that conflicts with your parent-time allocation.
Such are the issues of vacation-time between separated parents. Family law attorneys are often called by a parent asking if they ‘have to’ let the other parent have unscheduled time with the children.
Our family law judges know well that, irrespective of the custodial order, flexibility, collaboration, and accommodation are key to positive co-parenting. These attitudes are key to making holidays a positive experience for children. You may have the right to refuse a visit with the other parent under your order, but be careful if you don’t have a good reason for doing so. Inflexibility hurts you legally in the long run.
Divorces are so emotional. Specific and exact boundaries may be initially required when conflicts peaked. As time passes, parents hopefully develop a working relationship. It is difficult enough for children to see their world shatter, even in their teens.
Parents need no reason to return to court to ask for a parent-time modification free of charge through the Self-Help Center, located at the courthouse in Watsonville. Be careful your inflexibility does not trigger such a request; be hesitant to make such a request if you do not have a good reason.
Our judges know civility and flexibility are critical to positive co-parenting. Judges are parents too, and they know the traits of an uncooperative parent. A parent who does not demonstrate that they actively encourage the other parent’s involvement with the children may cause a judge to limit that parent’s allocated parent-time. These parents are not considered to be a ‘friendly parent.’ This is especially true when history shows one parent is the more likely individual to accommodate informal visitation requests by the other parent out of the ordinary.
High-conflict circumstances make ‘friendly parenting’ terribly difficult for the ‘friendly parent.’ It is unfair when the other parent intentionally shows up late for an exchange or makes demands that push parenting to the limits. A high-conflict parent may strategically claim the child is ‘ill’ or has a competing event and can therefore not permit the visit. Take heart, ‘friendly parent,’ that your collaborative efforts are, and are seen by the court, as best for the children, and that your willingness to put the children is appreciated. They know this is hard to do when unfair conduct is involved.
Here in Santa Cruz, our judges do not want to micromanage parents. They know that parental agreement is the best solution to most issues. As well, parents are more likely to follow the solutions they come up with.
But the court will intervene when they need to. If a parent makes it uncomfortable during exchanges or obstructs visits, there are ‘unpleasant’ solutions besides fines or, in extreme cases, jail time. If you are the uncooperative parent, a court can make you do all of the driving for visits, or have your emails and calls logged in a system where the judge can review your email and text communications. Refuse a reasonable request to let the children attend a grandparents’ visit outside of the custodial order and you risk a change to the order allocating the vacation period to the other parent.
Don’t let your circumstances reach the point where the judge makes parental decisions. The focus is always what is best for the child.
Positive co-parenting resources are abundant in this county. If you experience difficulties, your participation in these programs will itself show that you, indeed, are a ‘friendly parent.’ First Five’s Triple P program, a regular advertiser here, is well regarded in the legal community. As well, reach out to our Santa Cruz Parenting Center or look into the Papás program at Encompass Community Services. These are all terrific resources.
But most of all, focus on the child. When there is an unfriendly parent, the friendly parent will shelter the children from the conflict. It may be hard, and it may not be fair, but your child is worth it!
Bob Derber is a local attorney practicing family law. He served as a State appointed Guardian ad Litem in high conflict matters in the State of Utah before returning to his home in Santa Cruz four years ago. Your situation may differ and the above is not intended to be legal advice to you in your own custodial matters. Be sure to consult with your family law attorney as appropriate if you need help in this area.
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