Custody Issues: Back to School Drama

Posted on Sep 4, 2019 by Katie Carter

Back to school often raises a whole host of issues for parents who are separated or divorced. Really, any time there’s a big change with the kids, it can pose issues for separated or divorced parents, but I feel like back to school is often one of those points that, year after year, we run into the same issues.

I get it: it’s challenging. And married, separated, divorced, whatever – raising children is hard work. There’s no instruction manual. And so much of the time most of us are wondering whether we’re even doing this right.

Specifically, though, I think about two issues: the upcoming holidays, and what to do with the day they go back to school itself. Year after year, these things come up again and again, and I feel like I give the same advice a jillion times.

Upcoming holidays

September brings with it a sudden concern about what is going to happen on the upcoming major holidays. I hate to tell ya, but you’re already most likely too late to file anything with the court and have it heard before the holidays – so you’ll almost certainly need to work it out yourselves. Does that sound impossible? I hope not, but chances of getting into court within 2.5 months are slim and almost none for any of the Hampton Roads area courts that I can think of. It could happen, I guess, but it’s unlikely.

Maybe it’s worth filing anyway, even if you can’t get in before Thanksgiving this year, so that you can have the judge rule on the issues before the next holiday season comes around. But, as a general rule, I often tell people that if you want to be heard before THIS holiday season, you should file before Memorial Day. Does that seem like an excessive amount of time? Well, it kind of is – but the court’s docket is insanely backed up, and it’s virtually impossible to get in before the holidays if you don’t meet that deadline.

The problem, though, is that most people aren’t thinking about Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, Hannukah, etc., on Memorial Day. But if you file much later… either you reach an agreement about how you’ll handle the holidays, you fight tooth and nail the entire time and ruin it for everyone, or you go ahead and file and get heard whenever the judge gets to you, even if it’s after this year’s festivities. It’s not a perfect system. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it a million times more! So many people need help (and so many courts are short on judges) that it takes awhile to get to each case.

It’s not always easy to reach an agreement, but, if you’re worried about what’s coming, it’s certainly worth a shot to try! Here are a couple things I’ve seen work:

1. Split the day!

If you’re both local, there’s no reason one of you can’t have the children in the morning for one holiday while the other has the afternoon, and then switch for the next major holiday.

It’s not easy, but a holiday is often more than just a date on a calendar. It’s not a bad idea to think about starting new traditions, either. After all, even if you weren’t sharing the holiday with the child’s other parent, you’d be sharing with parents and in laws and all sorts of other people with an interest in your family – it’s not like you ever have complete freedom, or, at least, not very often!

2. Come together, if you can.

Some people celebrate together, even after they separate or divorce. It’s not so much that they want to, but that the idea of splitting the holiday is too painful. If you have a cordial enough relationship, it’s a possibility.

And, hey, how better to show your kids that you are both really super duper willing coparents?

3. Split the entire holiday break from school.

Remember: we aren’t just talking about a day here. For most of these major holidays, there are also large corresponding breaks from school.

A lot of times, the way I like to split it is that someone gets the desirable holiday time, and the other person gets the larger chunk of time afterwards. That way, there’s an offset: prime holiday real estate, but less time with the kids versus not so prime holiday time but more time (especially if you aren’t local, or have family you’d like to visit who isn’t local) with the kids.

Then, alternate.

Holidays aren’t easy. In fact, it’s one of the most emotionally charged times of the year, especially where custody and visitation is concerned. If it’s your first holiday season splitting the kids, it’ll probably be painful. But the more you can both accommodate each other this year, the better things will be in subsequent years.

Back to school: the day of

The morning of back to school is a hotly contested one, too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had problems with parents returning children the night before, or other parents not giving the non custodial parent information about any special morning activities. This is especially true for kids in big years, like their first year of kindergarten.

Everyone wants to be part of that first morning of school excitement, to take pictures and wait for the bus or be there for drop off.

My advice? Remember what it’ll be like when/if the shoe is on the other foot. If it’s your parenting time, include your child’s other parent – or prepare for them to systematically exclude you from other important events that happen to fall on his parenting time.

If he excludes you, remember how it feels. Fight the temptation to fight fire with fire, and try to include him next time there’s an important even to show him how it is possible for everyone to come and share in the joy of your children’s experiences – and hopefully convince him that, next time, he can and should include you, too.

Back to school is tricky, but it’s an important time to lay the foundation for the rest of the year, and all your future years coparenting together.

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