March brings with it one of the most wonderful and challenging weeks of the year to be a parent: Spring Break. It’s an opportunity – if a parent’s and child’s vacation time can be coordinated – to take a trip together or just some spent well-earned downtime as a family. But that can be a big if.
Spring Break, in certain circumstances, can create scheduling headaches and even conflicts between divorced parents. Anything that divorcing couples with children can do to ward off conflict in the decree is beneficial, but not even well-crafted decrees can anticipate everything that might come up.
In the Texas Family Code’s standard order provisions, Spring Break parenting time alternates from year to year. For parents opting for the standard possession order, this provision applies:
The possessory conservator shall have possession in even-numbered years, beginning at 6 p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school for the school’s spring vacation and ending at 6 p.m. on the day before school resumes after that vacation, and the managing conservator shall have possession for the same period in odd-numbered years.
(For parents who elect the expanded possession order, their Spring Break starts at the time the child’s school is dismissed for those vacations.)
Many schools let students out for a full week for Thanksgiving. With the Texas Family Code stating that “the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child in odd-numbered years, beginning at 6 p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school before Thanksgiving (or at the time the child’s school is dismissed for Thanksgiving in the expanded possession order) and ending at 6 p.m. on the following Sunday,” that means that each parent has a week-long school vacation to figure in to the schedule.
For a parent who doesn’t have the flexibility to be off work, accustomed to coordinating with a co-parent on child care coverage, planning and communication is essential – especially if the co-parent might have vacation plans over that particular Spring Break.
One thing to be mindful of, especially if you have children at different schools (for instance, one in private school and one in public school), that they might have different Spring Break schedules, and it will be incumbent on the parents to interpret their decree – unless they want to adopt the impractical solution of allotting parenting time according to each child’s individual Spring Break schedule.
One of the biggest disputes that can come up with parenting time is travel – especially if a child is travelling a long distance or for a significant period of time. If one parent is nervous about the other parent taking their child on a trip, it can manifest in conflict.
Obviously, you want to plan your travel to take place entirely within your allotted parenting time, but if you do want to schedule a flight outside of your parenting time window, you want to make sure you get a trade approved in writing before you book the flight. It’s also best to be upfront about why you want the trade; while the days and times in the decree might prove inconvenient with your travel plans, they are the legally-mandated fallback if you can’t arrive at a documented arrangement that falls outside of that.
As with all matters pertaining to the divorce decree, it’s best to try to anticipate any potential conflicts that could occur down the road as you work with your attorney to prepare it, but know that it might have to be amended down the road to accommodate changing circumstances.
Also know that while the decree is there for when you and your ex disagree, all it takes to override it in a specific situation is for you and your ex to communicate and come to a written agreement (either on paper or in email) spelling it out. Though last-minute emergencies do come up, it’s also best to try to communicate on matters well before the last minute.
Finally, remember that Spring Break is the last extended vacation a child gets before summer arrives. It’s important to make that time special for children – but to also be thinking about summer parenting time schedules and how you’ll handle all the concerns that come with that.