The process of establishing parenting arrangements after divorce and separation should involve a focus on what is best for the child and on allowing a child to maintain strong relationships with both parents. In addition to addressing how children will share their time on typical days, weeks and months, provisions also must address how children will spend their time on holidays and on special occasions.
Parenting Arrangements for Special Occasions After Divorce and Separation
The best interests of the child are the primary concern of the court when the court must determine how a child will split time with parents on special occasions. The court wants all decisions on custody, including where holidays are spent, to result in an outcome that allows a child to best maintain strong family ties and to have a stable home life.
Because of the importance of maintaining strong relationships with both parents and with extended family members on both sides of the family, arrangements on holidays and special occasions should be reciprocal whenever possible. Children should spend the same amount of time, or close to the same amount of time, with each of the parents. However, family arrangements must also be practical and must make sense in light of the lifestyle of the children and the family.
Each different special occasion, therefore, must be divided based on what is reasonable as well as what is most advantageous to helping the child to create strong family memories and foster family ties. Some of the different occasions that may be addressed by the court include:
A child’s birthday
When parents live close to each other and birthdays do not fall on a day when a child attends school, a child may split time with parents and spend half the day with each parent. However, in light of research suggesting children generally prefer to have two birthdays and two separate celebrations, rather than splitting the day in half, some courts have begun ordering a child to spend his or her birthday with the parent who is the primary carer. Extra time may be provided to the other parent on the days or the weekend after, and the child can celebrate a “second birthday” with the other parent.
A parent’s birthday
If a parent’s birthday falls on a non-school day, the court may order the child spend the whole day with the parent whose birthday it is. If the parent’s birthday falls on a school day, the child may spend time with that parent after school or overnight if it is practical for the child to do so.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
Typically, children will spend this day with the appropriate parent.
Christmas, Easter, Boxing Day and other major holidays
When there is a religious holiday and only one of the two parents celebrates the religion, the child will typically spend that holiday with the parent who celebrates, as long as it is practical for the child to do so. If both parents celebrate the religious or major holiday at the same time, the court may split the time and the child could spend the morning with one parent and the evening with the other. If parents celebrate on different days or there are long-established family traditions that one parent takes part in, the court may make appropriate arrangements whenever it is practical to allow the child to continue participating in these traditional family activities. When sharing holidays is not practical, the court may also order alternating special occasions. For example, a child may spend Christmas with one parent and Easter with the other on one year, and then the schedule would be reversed for the following year.
When a schedule is established for how holidays should be split, it must also address what happens if holidays conflict. For example, a parent’s birthday could fall on a major holiday or on mother’s day or father’s day. When conflicts are anticipated in advance, the court can address them. As one possibility, the court may order the child spend father’s day with his or her father, except when the other parent’s birthday also happens to fall on father’s day.
Owen Hodge Lawyers has extensive experience helping parents and families with the process of dividing time with children after a separation or a divorce. Give us a call at 1800 770 780 or contact us via [email protected] to learn how we can assist you in arguing before the court for a holiday schedule you will be happy with.
We are always striving to deliver the family law guidance you need. Read more about the family law matters on the Owen Hodge Blog, including our recent post how marriage, separation and divorce can affect your will.