After a divorce, parents often find the holidays particularly stressful. Underlying tensions between ex-spouses can be heightened this time of year. Additionally, pandemic travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines are likely to complicate child custody exchanges this year. Learn more about child custody in Pennsylvania and review these helpful co-parenting tips to ensure a happy holiday season.
Different Types of Custody
When married parents separate, a divorce decree explains where the children will live and when they will spend time with the other parent. Some parents work together on their own to come up with a parenting plan. Others have more trouble reaching an agreement and need the assistance of lawyers or a mediator. There are several child custody scenarios, depending upon how involved each parent wants to be:
- Legal custody: The right to make decisions about a child’s education, religion, and health care.
- Physical Custody: Awarded to the parent with whom the child will reside most of the time.
- Joint Custody: When children spend equal amounts of time with each parent.
How is Child Custody Determined?
Every family dynamic is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all custody arrangement that can possibly meet the needs of every parent and child. It takes time and legal intervention to come up with a solid parenting arrangement. A variety of factors are considered when determining child custody:
- Age and sex of each child.
- Religious values and education.
- Evidence of substance abuse.
- Suspected sexual or physical abuse.
- Support from extended family members.
- Physical and mental health and well-being of both parents.
- The benefits of remaining in a familiar home, school, and community.
Schedule a consultation with a lawyer to learn more about how to navigate the holidays and make a visitation plan that works.
Create a Visitation Schedule
A good visitation schedule is the foundation for a peaceful holiday season. When everyone knows when and where children will be spending their days, arguments and disputes can be avoided. Parents who agree upon a custody schedule that considers everyone’s work and social schedules save valuable time, money, and energy.
Those who cannot agree on visitation plans for the holidays must defer to family court. Working with the guidance of a skilled lawyer, parents and their lawyers present a preliminary parenting arrangement to the court. If the family court judge agrees the plan is in the best interests of the children, they sign it, making it a legally binding court order.
Be Flexible with Co-Parenting Holiday Plans
Flexibility is essential for holiday co-parenting plans this year. Now more than ever, parents may have to cancel vacation plans, trips to visit family, and other holiday traditions. These changes can impact existing parenting arrangements.
Always consider what is best for the children. Is traveling safe and sensible during the pandemic? Should a custody exchange be put on hold for the time being? How can children and non-custodial parents connect when they cannot travel to see each other? Co-parents asking these questions should contact their lawyers for guidance, and approach holiday custody schedules with open minds.
Make New Holiday Traditions
COVID-19 has changed the way people work, learn, and socialize. It is going to change how people celebrate the holidays. Consider making brand new traditions this year. Each parent can create their own traditions and give children something to look forward to each year. The following are easy ways to make new traditions during child visitation this holiday season:
Local Holiday Light Tour: Make a plan to visit all of the impressive light displays in the area. Play some holiday music during the drive and share favorite holiday memories along the way.
Try a Traditional Recipe: Every culture has traditional holiday recipes. Ask children to research traditional foods, shop for ingredients, and cook or bake the item together as a way to honor their heritage. Allow older to children create the holiday dinner menu, set the table, cook, and serve guests.
Give Back to the Community: Work with a local charity to make someone else’s holiday more special. Even during a pandemic, children can find ways to serve their communities safely. Write holiday cards to children in the hospital, create care packages for homeless individuals, or sew face masks to donate to those in need.
How can I Create Positive Child Custody Exchanges?
Some parents find that holiday custody exchanges are especially emotional and even contentious. Saying good-bye to children going to spend the holidays with an ex-spouse can bring up feelings of sadness and resentment. Co-parents must do their part to make positive custody exchanges. Some ways to create a positive experience include:
- Being on time. Keeping the other parent waiting implies their time is not valuable and opens the door for arguments.
- Choosing a public location. Custody exchanges can happen at a local police station or school where co-parents are less likely to argue and fight.
- Enlisting an objective, third-party. Co-parents who cannot interact peacefully can utilize a neutral, third-party for the custody exchange.
- Rising above negativity. Diffuse tensions and be a positive role model.
Encourage Connections with Parents
For many co-parents, the hardest part can be spending the holidays apart. Whether parents switch off holidays throughout the year or alternate holidays, each will be apart from the children at some point. Parents need to acknowledge these feelings and encourage healthy connections between children and non-custodial parents. Technology is a great tool for helping everyone stay in touch. Assist children in video-chatting with parents and grandparents. Co-parents who get along can help children shop for each other or even include them in holiday activities as well.
Give Children a Voice
In family court, the children’s best interests are prioritized. When making visitation plans for the holidays, ask children what they want. The older children become, the better they are able to articulate their wishes and needs. Empower teenagers to make decisions about the holidays. If they ask to spend a special day with the other parent, try not to take it personally.
Co-Parenting During a Pandemic
COVID-19 has changed life in countless ways, including parenting. So how do parents effectively co-parent during the holidays amid the COVID-19 pandemic? Make physical safety the guiding principle for everyone involved:
- Self-quarantine before and after switching homes.
- Follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- Set family ground rules for social distancing and other safety measures that apply to both households.
- Contact a lawyer if the other parent is not taking proper safety precautions to protect the children.
With a bit of patience and positivity, co-parenting during the holidays is possible. Parents willing to put children first and focus on the future can help create a fun and festive season for every family member.
Bucks County Divorce Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Create Fair and Effective Custody Agreements for Healthy Co-Parenting
Co-parenting during the holidays is always a bit challenging. Our Bucks County divorce lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. are available to answer your family law questions and resolve your divorce matters quickly and effectively. Call us at 888-999-1962 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.