Phew! Is that a collective sigh of relief of having passed another winter holiday season? And with summer around the corner, the time from Memorial Day to Labor Day can be just as stressful for divorced families.

As part of the divorce process, couples have to take a parenting class and prepare a placement schedule, deciding where the kids will live and when each parent will have their time with the children. As a part of that, parents also have to figure out who has the children for each holiday. That can be the hardest part. The little ones want to spend the holidays with BOTH parents and feel sad when they can’t.

When doing divorce paperwork for yourself (or pro se) in Wisconsin, one of the things we always suggest for our clients is to have each person decide which holidays mean the most to them, and jointly try to fit the schedule around that. As an example, in my family, my ex-mother-in-law loved having her whole family come over on Christmas Day; whereas in my family, the biggest get together was Christmas Eve. So our parenting plan included that.

While planning your holiday and vacation schedules, think outside the box. Your typical definition of shared placement does not need to be such. As an example, if for Christmas you don’t have your kids for the whole day, maybe simply gather around, play holiday music, make a homemade pizza or a taco bar, and eat while watching corny Christmas movies. Do you have an important family tradition that is important to you? Make sure you still do it, but maybe the week before or after, maybe New Year’s Day.

Thinking outside the box doesn’t just mean for holidays. I have two children born in July and I found many times their friends would be on summer vacation when it came time for their birthday party. So, we started doing half-year birthday parties, which worked wonders, both on turnout and also allowing one or the other parent to spend some quality time with their child.

What if the relationship with your ex-spouse is not amicable? How to manage that and plan for the holidays, vacations, birthdays? Why not have each party draft their wish list and then both get together with a neutral party: A mutual friend, a church leader, a mediator (often your local Family Court Commissioner’s office has names of mediators on file). You can’t stand to even be in the same room? Submit the paperwork to the neutral party and see if that person can come up with some suggestions. Then it’s time to put the children first and make some concessions in order to come up with a workable plan.

Also, depending on the children’s ages, you might want to get them involved. Instead of TELLING them what they’re going to do for holidays, winter/spring/summer break, ask them what they’d LIKE to do. You might be surprised to find out they’d rather spend the summer working at their uncle’s farm instead of going to an exotic location. Or they may just want to spend their free time at home, hanging with their friends, swimming at the local swimming hole, and chasing the ice cream truck.

But you should know, and expect, that things could change. Try to be as flexible and cooperative as you can. Draft a schedule in pencil, knowing things may have to change, up to the last minute. The key for the kids is consistency. If they know what is coming up for them, it will be much less stressful for everyone. Always, always, always, think of the kids, what they want and how they feel. Focus on them while you create your holiday/vacation schedule. Then, figure out what you can do to make the holidays enjoyable for both you and your children, and create lifelong memories!

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