Articles Posted in Holidays and Special Occasions

It’s hard to believe that September is more than half over. School supplies have been opened and used, new clothes worn and homework assigned. Families with school-age children are getting back into the routine of school five days a week. As has been previously discussed on this blog, children of divorced parents are often also adjusting to a different (school schedule) residential schedule. Some kids have been through this transition before. For some kids, this is the first time they are dealing with a new school year as part of a two-home family. The Huffington Post recently published an article entitled “How Our Schools Can Better Serve Children of Divorce.”

As previously suggested on this blog, and as suggested in the article, parents can do many things to make the transition back to school easier on children of divorce. The article suggests (and we agree) that parents should let the school know that the children are going through (or have recently been through) a divorce. Parents can ask teachers of elementary age children and (perhaps more appropriately) guidance counselors of middle school or high school students whether they are seeing any issues with the child that may be attributed to stress at home. If the adults at school are seeing issues, it may be time to consult with a counselor trained in dealing with children of divorce. Kids are at school for many hours each day. Teachers and other school staff can be a divorcing (or divorced) parent’s ally in helping kids adjust.

Transitioning from summer to school schedules, sun to rain, and free play to structure can be enough to deal with. If your child is also dealing with a new family structure, it might be good to give their well-being some extra thought and attention.

A discussion recently transpired among family law practitioners regarding child support payments in circumstances where parenting plans provide for equal (50/50) residential time with each parent. A novice family law attorney was coming to the (more experienced) field of family law lawyers looking for an answer to her client’s question regarding child support. Unfortunately, even the most veteran among us was unable to give a clear answer because the law does not provide a clear answer. Instead, it appears, based on many practitioners experience, that it depends on the specific circumstances of the case, or even the specific decision maker’s opinion on how this issue should be handled. In a case where one parent has the child(ren) 90% of the time, it can be fairly simple to determine how much child support the parent with 10% of the residential time will pay (assuming no extenuating circumstances). In those cases, the law does provide a fairly straightforward process for determining child support based on the parties income. But, when there is a 50/50 parenting plan in place, it is less clear if the same process applies, or if another formula should apply.

What is clear is that one thing is always considered by the court when making decisions regarding this issue. The court is going to want to know about the income disparity (if there is one) between the parties. If both parties make roughly the same amount, it is more likely the court will order that there be no transfer payment (i.e. one parent paying the other). With a large disparity in income, it becomes more likely that there will be a transfer payment. This makes sense given that the total child support amount (the amount that the legislature has deemed should be spent on a child with parents of that combined income level) is to be shared between the parties, and the lower-earning parent will be unable to provide for the child at the level the parties could if they were both contributing their proportional (tbased on income) share to the support of the child.

There is a separate formula for when the parties with more than one child split the children up, with one child residing at one parent’s home, and the other residing at the other parent’s home.

With the holidays approaching, parents considering divorce may be wondering what holidays with their children could look like post-separation. While specifics should be discussed with an attorney, there is general information that might resolve some questions.

The Washington State parenting plan form includes the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The form provides just a starting point. Many families decide to add more holidays (ex. Easter, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, Halloween) and/or subtract some of the holidays (ex. Presidents’ Day, Veterans’ Day) already included.

The pattern form asks that parties provide where the children will reside during each of the holidays. It also asks that parties provide the time that the holidays will begin and end. In making this decision, it is important to consider the ages of the children, important times for the family during the holiday, and plans of extended family during holidays. Many families choose to have most holidays last from morning at around 9:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Then, many families choose to include exceptions to this general rule. For example, many make the Fourth of July an overnight and/or ask that Thanksgiving begin after school on Wednesday and last until Sunday. There isn’t a right or wrong way to handle holidays in your parenting plan, as long as your holiday schedule works for both parties and the children. We would be happy to help you draft a parenting plan that will keep your holidays as happy as possible.

In a recent article, “How to Connect With School-Aged Children When You’re Separated or Divorced,” in The Huffington Post’s divorce section, Naomi E. Goldstein, Ph.D. discusses the difficulty and importance of connecting with children after divorce. In that article, she posits that it is especially difficult for divorced parents to connect with children as they enter elementary and middle school years. As family law attorneys, we have had firsthand experience helping our clients, with children of all ages, maintain their parent/child connections in the face of a changing family structure.

In fact, it is our understanding of this difficult reality that drives us to draft parenting plans that are as personalized as possible. As part of our process, we encourage our clients to think about ways they connected with their children prior to separation. Then we strategize how those ways may be maintained or even expanded through a well-drafted, personalized, parenting plan. For example, if you bond with your kids by coaching or watching their sporting events, but you are not the primary parent, we might draft a plan with provisions allowing for you to coach or watch events during the other parent’s residential time with the child. Or, if you have a special tradition (ex. a yearly camping trip the first weekend after school releases for the summer) we might draft a plan that allows you and your child to continue your yearly ritual.

In the absence of extenuating circumstances, maintaining a connected parent/child relationship with both parents should be the goal of drafting a parenting plan. Parenting plans are not one size fits all. Let us help you make a parenting plan that keeps you and your children connected.