When you’re a parent, you never ever want to miss a moment with your child. Because of this, for parents who co-parent, Christmas can be one of the hardest holidays.
Christmas can bring up a lot of emotions and challenges for parents who co-parent. It’s not just the matter of deciding the schedule, but it can also be a matter of deciding on which parent is going to give that “coveted toy,” which parent is going to handle ice-skating or picking out and decorating a tree. Added to that is the fear of burning out a child who now essentially has two Christmases. There are numerous ways that schedules and activities can be arranged, and it will be up to both parents to amicably come to an agreement.
This ability to come to amicable agreements is not just a holiday-time kind of thing and the same type of open conversations and dialogue that happens all year will still apply, even when Santa Claus is coming to town. Below we review some of the co-parenting guidelines that apply year ’round.
When it comes to co-parenting, both parents must commit to keeping the child’s best interest at the forefront of all their decisions. A difficult situation can be made easier by adhering to the following guidelines:
Value the co-parenting relationship and recognize how important it is in the lives of the children;
Maintain a shared focus on the children’s emotional well-being and demonstrate flexibility — perhaps even warm affection — towards one another;
Understand that bad-mouthing the other parent or disparaging them in front of the child will do more harm than good;
Appreciate the importance of the children having an attachment to both parents.
By following the above guidelines, you will hopefully be able to craft a loving co-parenting relationship that is based on your child’s best interest.
Additional Co-Parenting Tools
Once you have set an emotional foundation for your co-parenting relationship, it’s important to figure out the day-to-day logistics. As any parent will tell you, a child’s schedule can be one of the hardest to manage. From school, homework, practices, to managing playdates and vacations, children have a lot of things on their schedule. Divorced parents will need to figure out a way to make this work.
Types of Custody
Depending on your custody arrangement, you’ll need to work out a parenting schedule. Before we discuss that, let’s touch on the various types of custody arrangements.
There are two main types of child custody under California law: legal and physical custody.
Legal custody (California Family Code § 3003) can be joint, in which both parents share the right and responsibility to make important decisions about their children’s health, welfare and education, or sole, in which one parent is granted the exclusive responsibility for making these decisions, though the other parent may still have visiting rights. It is the presumption of the court in most divorce proceedings that it is in the best interest of the child to have continuing contact with both parents. However, if the parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan, it is up to the court to decide how they will share time with their children. Parents with legal custody are responsible for making the major decisions or choices about their children’s schooling or child care, residence, religious activities, mental health needs, medical needs, travel and extracurricular activities.
Physical custody (California Family Code § 3004) can also be joint, which means the children live with both parents, or sole, which means the children live with one parent for most of the time and may schedule regular visits with the other parent. California law favors joint legal and physical custody when both parents can agree to it. If they don’t agree, the court will establish a parenting plan that is in the children’s best interests.
How an Experienced Los Angeles Child Custody Attorney Can Help
Children of divorced parents in California have the right to spend time with both parents, provided both parents are able to keep them safe and can care for them in an appropriate manner. However, when determining what is in the best interest of a child in terms of custody, the court is allowed a great deal of discretion and the judge assigned to your case may consider any number of factors in making his or her decision about where your children should live, and which parent has the right to make the most important decisions about your children’s lives.
Our attorneys at Divorce Lawyers Los Angeles understand that it is often in the best interest of a child for his or her parents to come to an amicable agreement regarding child custody or visitation, as it avoids your family’s future being dictated by a judge who is unfamiliar with your situation and needs, and we can help guide you through this difficult process in a manner that is satisfactory for all parties. However, if you are unable to agree to custody terms with the other parent and your case goes to trial, our attorneys will represent your case with the competence and compassion a sensitive situation like this requires.
A parenting schedule can be one of the best ways to add normalcy to your child’s life. This schedule — either created by court order or through agreement — should be agreed to by both parents, should define each parent’s time with the child, and should be based on keeping your child’s best interests at the forefront.
A schedule will provide necessary structure and predictability, but it’s important to remember that they need to be flexible. Maintaining this flexibility, such as inviting the other parent to participate even when it is not “their time” per the schedule, can promote a sense of togetherness and normalcy to a child. Striking the right balance between rigidity and flexibility can be difficult and you will need to make it work.
This schedule outlines the transitions between the parents — and the parent’s homes. Obviously this will be based on the type of custody arrangement. This schedule should include drop of times and places, all daily events, as well as vacation dates. There are numerous templates you can find online to help you with this. Make the plan formal by writing it into an official parenting plan so that everyone can stick to the schedule and remember its finer details as well. Consider revisiting the plan every once in a while to make sure it continues to meet all of your needs. A family law attorney would be able to help you figure out a plan that works for everyone.
Holiday and Vacation Arrangements
Another aspect of the parenting schedule is holidays and vacation schedules. Here are some common ways parents divide and share holiday time:
- Alternate holidays every other year. Assign holidays to each parent for even years and then swap the holidays in odd years. With this arrangement, neither parent misses spending a holiday with their child more than one year in a row.
- Split the holiday in half. Split the day of the holiday so that the child spends part of the day with each parent. This arrangement requires planning and coordination to avoid traveling all day.
- Schedule a holiday twice. Schedule time for each parent to celebrate a holiday with the child. For example, one parent can celebrate Christmas with the child on Dec. 20th and the other parent on the 25th.
- Assign fixed holidays. With this arrangement, each parent celebrate the same holidays with the child every year. If parents have different holidays that they think are important, each parent can have those holidays every year.
Use any combination of these ways to divide and share holiday and vacation time to create arrangements that allow your child to enjoy family traditions and spend quality time with both parents.
Consider Help with Conflicts
In especially acrimonious separations, creating a co-parenting situation can be even harder. You might consider a parent coordinator, therapist or psychologist or clinical social worker who works with both parents, to help resolve conflicts and encourage more effective communication. By having a third party available to address conflict, parents can feel more empowered to communicate openly and honestly.
Any of the above-mentioned professionals will be able to address disparate parenting styles (which often extend beyond adherence to a schedule) and help co-parents find a balance which will meet their needs and the needs of their children.
Put the Child First
Every co-parenting relationship has its challenges and it can be very difficult working out this new relationship when you are so used to the old relationship you used to share with your ex.
Co-parenting can only be successful when both parents value its importance and make every attempt to manage the challenges the relationship brings with it. By remaining mindful of the above tips, co-parenting can be made easier and lead to happier parents and healthier children.
Originally published at divorcelawyerslosangeles.com on December 17, 2018.