If your divorce involves minor children, you will create a Parenting Plan that sets forth the parental responsibilities of each spouse and the parenting time each spouse will have with the children.
If the parties cannot agree on any part of the Parenting Plan, the court will establish its own plan after a contested hearing.
The best interests of the children is the overriding concern and standard of review the court will use in reviewing and establishing the Parenting Plan.
One part of determining parenting time will be devising schedules for the holidays. This can be especially difficult if the parties will live far enough apart that travel plays a role. It’s more complicated if the parties live far apart, and the children require an adult to travel with them to each residence.
When you prepare a parenting time agreement or proposal, make sure you address the following issues.
Holiday schedule. Typically parties rotate main holidays within a calendar year, and flip the rotation each year.
For example, you can specify that the father will have the children during Thanksgiving and the mother will have them at Christmas in years ending in even numbers. Then the schedule flips in years ending with odd numbers.
Days and times. The day or date and time the holiday schedule takes affect is important, especially if it conflicts with the regular parenting time schedule. Since some holidays are always on a particular day, i.e. Thanksgiving is always the last Thursday in November and Easter is always on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25, you can specify a day and time the holiday weekend begins, such as “Beginning on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at 12:00 pm MT, and ending at 12:00 pm MT on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.”
For holidays that start on varying days of the week, such as Christmas, you can specify that parenting time will begin and end on certain days preceding and following the holiday: “Beginning at 12:00 pm on December 23 and ending at 12:00 pm on December 25.”
Travel days. If the parties live far enough part that extended travel is required, schedule travel days for holidays, vacations, and school breaks into the parenting time agreement. Don’t count a travel day as parenting time.
Travel costs. Transportation costs are the responsibility of the party that is exercising parenting time, or the party the children are traveling to see. However, this can be modified by agreement if one party is in a better financial position to pay for travel, or one party relocates the children away from the other party.
The cost of travel should also include the cost of an adult to travel with children under the age of 12 or otherwise unable to travel alone.
Exchange location. This is especially important if the parties’ relationship is acrimonious, physical harm has been threatened, or one party just isn’t comfortable around the other party. Designate an agreed upon location depending on the need for a public place or a third party to facilitate the exchange.
It may not be practical to set the same location for every exchange, especially if the distance between the parties is great enough that transportation by car, plane, train, or even a ship is a distinct possibility each time the children travel.
Holiday precedence. A statement that holiday and other special parenting-time schedules take precedence over the regular parenting-time schedule, just so there’s no confusion.
Birthdays. For all family birthdays, including the children, the parents, grandparents, and extended family if needed. The parenting plan can be modified post-decree if provisions for step-parent and step-sibling birthdays are required.