After last year’s socially distanced holidays, 2021 is seeing the return of in-person family gatherings, holiday travel and even Black Friday shopping crowds. Is your holiday parenting time plan ready for this year’s return to “somewhat normal”? Here are some key tips for divorced parents to share special time with their children this holiday season. (And a few bonus tips for other holiday-related issues that may pop up!)
Tip: Review your parenting time plan
During last year’s Covid-19 lockdown, many divorced parents created emergency parenting plans in response to health concerns, school closures, travel bans and other pandemic-related issues. Did you and your ex create a temporary Covid plan that called for things like swapping in-person parenting time for virtual parenting time over last year’s holidays? If so, it’s time to revisit and update these plans for 2021.
You have a few options depending on your situation:
- Some parents may simply be able to return to their “standard” holiday parenting time plan that was agreed to in their divorce pre-pandemic. Check to see if your emergency plan had an expiration dare, such as stating the agreement was only applicable in 2020. If that’s the case, simply alert your ex that it’s time to return to the standard plan in 2021. If there was no expiration date on your Covid plan, get your ex’s sign off that the emergency plan is null and void and you are returning to your original holiday schedule. Your attorney can help you with the wording of this.
- If you didn’t change your holiday parenting time plan last year, it’s still a good idea to review your plan to see if changes are needed or desired this year. For example, did you give up a lot of regular parenting time over the course of the pandemic? You may want to negotiate with your ex if you can restore some of this time over the holidays/December school vacation.
- Stay nimble. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that staying flexible with parenting time plans is a must. This year, you may want to work out pandemic-proof contingency plans with your ex should one of you get sick or need to quarantine. Can you agree to swap Christmas and New Year’s if needed? Or have Christmas on a different date this year after you’re well again? It’s a good idea to have an alternate plan ready to roll out just in case.
Tip: Get more time with your children this year
Changes to your holiday parenting time plan this year may have nothing to do with Covid! If you have been less than satisfied with the amount of special time you have with your child, there are many informal (and formal) ways to work with your ex to get more one-on-one time with your children this year. Be prepared to explain to your ex your reasoning for wanting extra time this year, and offer a plan for making this happen. Maybe your children missed seeing their grandparents last year and you’d like a little more time at Hanukkah or Christmas to visit them? Whatever is motivating you, we have some great tips for how to negotiate extra holiday parenting time. Use these — and get your plan in writing!
Plan Travel as Far in Advance as Possible
Travel is back in 2021, so if you’ve been longing to take your children on a ski vacation or spend New Year’s Eve in NYC, your wishes may come true this year. Just be prepared for a lot of planning around Covid precautions and vaccine requirements depending on the guidelines your destination follows.
It’s especially important to check ahead to find out vaccine policies for adults and children. Get copies of your children’s vaccine cards (and don’t forget your own). Snapping a photo of the cards and keeping them on your phone is typically acceptable for entry, but still keep paper copies on you just in case. Divorced parents should also keep copies of child custody/parenting time documentation as a standard part of traveling with their kids.
Also, take into account any extra steps once you return from your trip. Would your ex feel better if you and your child got a Covid test before you dropped your child back off? Does your child’s school have any testing or quarantine requirements for students who traveled over vacation? Figure all this out before you leave. If needed, adding in a little cushion of time at the end of the trip can make it easier for everyone.
Make a decision about Covid vaccines for your child
If your holiday plans include visiting grandparents and other extended family your children haven’t seen in person since before the pandemic, be prepared that you may need to make decisions about vaccines for your children before these visits take place.
If you and your ex share legal custody and are on the same page with vaccines, this may boil down to nothing more than ensuring your child has their two shots completed before the visit (or no vaccines at all). If you and your ex disagree over vaccinations, you need to understand your rights in saying no or overriding your ex’s veto. See our blog on vaccine rights for how to navigate these issues.
Whatever decision you come to, it’s a good idea to be transparent with the people you plan to visit about everyone’s vaccine status.
Creating your first holiday parenting plan this year?
Here’s a tip: when creating your plans for the holidays, be as specific as possible about where and with whom your children will be spending their time. Many parenting time plans for the holidays are just vague enough to cause confusion. For instance, if you have Christmas Eve and your ex has Christmas Day, when is pick up and drop off time for the kids? Is it Christmas Eve night or the morning of Christmas Day? If you are on relatively good terms with your former spouse, try to come to an agreement about this by presenting your ex with some commonsense options. Could you do a drop off early on Christmas Day morning? Would your ex at least agree to a later pick up time on Christmas Eve (compared to your usual swap time)? You may be surprised how willing your ex is to accommodate your request for more time, especially if you are polite, respectful, and can convey that it is in the children’s best interest for this change to take place. Get your plan in writing.
Bonus Tip 1: Review your child-related finances
Most people make use of the end of the year for looking back at their finances and preparing for January’s start of tax season. As you review your financials relating to your children, take stock of issues such as:
- Child support — is it adequate?
- Have your children’s needs changed? For example, did your child just transition from daycare to elementary school, or do you have an older child off to college? These changes in your children’s lives may create changes in their financial needs — both increases and decreases. Make a list of any changes and discuss with your attorney. Is it time to modify your support to account for these changing needs?
- What about other essentials, such as orthodontist bills or optician costs? Are you clear on who pays? Is your health insurance changing? Will this increase or decrease out of pocket payments?
- If you have recently divorced, avoid future tax mistakes now by taking time to review which one of you will claim the children as dependents when filing your 2021 income taxes.
Bonus Tip 2: Make sure your ex isn’t using Black Friday deals for the kids a s way to spy on you
This year’s Black Friday/Cyber Money holiday shopping deals are all about deep discounts on tech products — from the latest smartphones to deluxe gaming systems. If you and your ex don’t exactly have a relationship that’s filled with holiday good cheer and your child shows up with a shiny new iPhone or X-box gifted to them by your ex, be aware that the high tech gift could be used as a spy tool against you. Check any new device for settings that are primed for spying, including GPS tracking, hidden cameras and secret audio recording apps. Even tech-focused toys can come with secret snooping tools! Most of the time disabling a problematic app or removing the batteries from the toy solves the problem.
Special note: If your teen’s phone has the popular Life 360 tracking app that parents of on-the-go kids often insist they add, you can create a new “circle” in the app that only includes you and your teen. Your ex can do the same. When it’s your turn for parenting time, your child can disable the other circle so only the two of you are able to see each other’s location. When your parenting time is over, your teen can switch to the other circle. Some co-parents on good terms may decide to stay in the same Life 360 circle — but this needs to be a mutual decision!
Want to discuss your holiday parenting time arrangements? Have questions about custody? We can help. Start safeguarding your future with your kids today by coming in an initial attorney consultation. Gets answers to all your questions and get a clear strategy for moving forward. Call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the green button below.