Whether you are a parent currently in the middle of a divorce or one who has recently gone through one, one issue that many parents fail to discuss is who will be spending time with the kids when they are off school for Spring Break. This can creep up on parents and result in many fights, arguments, last minute calls to the attorneys office, and even possibly trips to Court. Therefore, smart parents should consider having a plan in action now as to how both parents will share custody of the children over the break. Parents should keep these tips in mind.
1. Think Long Term
You may have already made exciting plans for the children over this year’s Spring Break, but divorcing parents should consider making plans for the duration of the child’s life. One popular option is to alternate Spring Breaks every other year with the other parent – i.e. Mom to have Spring Break with the kids in odd years, and Dad to have Spring Break with the kids in even years. This type of plan is a good one because it is easy to enforce each and every year.
2. Make It Fair
If parents are considering splitting up the Spring Break week every year, be sure that the split is fair to the other parent. For example, if Mom is to have the kids Monday through noon on Thursdays, and Dad is to have the kids from noon on Thursdays through Sunday nights, this could result in Dad having the kids every time on Easter Sunday. This would not be fair to Mom! A better alternative would be to rotate the mid-week split every year, or possibly split up the week Monday through Wednesday (as Mom’s time), Thursday through Saturday (as Dad’s time) and rotate who will be with the kids on Easter Sunday every other year.
3. Consider the Kids’ Changing Schedules
Just because both of your kids are both in elementary school and share the same Spring Break schedule every week now doesn’t mean that will always be the case. When one sibling graduates to middle school (or later, high school) children will likely have different Spring Break schedules with different times off. This is something both parents should take into consideration when crafting a Spring Break plan.
4. Consider Your Jobs
Depending on the employment situation of one or both parents, Spring Break might be a particularly good or bad week for you to have a full week of custody with your kids. Good parents will try to be flexible and work with the other parent when determining Spring Breaks and other vacation time the kids will have with the other parent. It may also help to consider how you plan on determining vacation time with the other parent over the course over the entire year. For example, if you are a CPA who is usually heavily impacted every year around Spring Break, it may make sense for you to give the other parent Spring Break with the children in exchange for an extra week around Christmas or Summer when you are less busy and will likely to have more free time to spend with you kids.
5. Get It on Paper and Signed by the Judge so It Becomes an Order of the Court
Negotiating Spring Break and other vacation time is usually something parents do in the course of their divorce or dissolution. In California, at the end of the divorce, the parties or their attorneys will enter their plan moving forward with the Court in a Judgment or Marital Settlement Agreement which is signed by the Judge and becomes an Order of the court. However, if you are in the middle of the divorce or simply forgot to address the issue in your divorce, there are ways for your agreement to become an Order of the court now. In California, parties can enter into what is called a Stipulation, where the agreement is typed out and signed by both parents and the Judge, which then becomes an Order. The Order must then be followed by both parents. This is much stronger than simply having a verbal or even a written agreement that is not signed by the Judge. Parents should contact a local Family Law attorney if they have more questions regarding drafting a Stipulation.
6. Keep It Easy to Understand
Another tip for parents to keep in mind when crafting an agreement or custody plan for Spring Break is to be sure that it is easy to understand. You or a Judge may be looking back on this after five, ten, or even fifteen years and it should be easy to determine with one quick read who has time with the kids. This is why using language such as “Mom to have even years, Dad to have odd years” is highly suggested. Either of you can refer back to your agreement and will know quickly if it is your time with the kids.
7. Be Flexible, but Have a Back-up Plan
One reason divorced parents run into problems over Spring Break and other vacation time is because they agree that Spring Break time will be determined “by mutual agreement of the parties” every year. While you and your ex may be on great terms now and have been flexible and accommodating to a fair exchange of Spring Break time, this may not always be the case. Even if you truly think you will be able to work it out and decide to determine Spring Break “by mutual agreement of the parties” you can always add a clause which states, “In the event that a mutual agreement cannot be reached, the plan for Spring Break is…” This will save you time and hassle down the road if you and ex are not so agreeable making these decisions in the future. It’s a good “back-up” plan.
Hopefully these tips will help you as the Spring Break holiday approaches. As always, it is best to consult a local and knowledgeable Family Law Attorney in your area should you need help making these decisions.
Stacy M. Boyer, Esq.