Massachusetts Legal Blog

Not Home for the Holidays? How Divorced Parents Plan For Holiday Visitation

Are You a Parent Out of State Trying to Plan for the Holidays?

Living in another state without your child can make parenting more of a challenge, simply from a logistics point of view. Dealing with parenting plans during the holiday season can be particularly difficult when one parent lives out of state. The sooner co-parents can address the unique obstacles parenting plans may pose when one parent is out of state, the sooner those parents can find common ground and resolutions that work for everyone involved.

Plan Ahead

While each family is vastly different from others, many out of state parents face the same issues. It is important that any parenting plan is structured to help each parent maximize the time they have with a child, regardless of distance. When one parent is in another state, travel time has to be considered. The time it takes for the child to get to one parent should not count against that parent’s allotted visitation time. Holiday visits also need to coincide with school vacations as a child gets older. To get the legally allotted time with a child, it may be necessary for one parent to get fewer but longer lasting visits with the child over a holiday. Sticking to an every other weekend plan just won’t work when one parent lives so far away. The issue of visitation can become more complicated as extended family members try to plan celebrations also.

Who Pays For Travel Expenses?

Aside from time constraints affecting out of state visitation, money is a factor also. Parents will need to address the cost of travel in between homes. Deciding to split the cost evenly or for one parent to pay for transportation may require compromise or even legal intervention. The cost of a plane ticket may not be the only expense either if a child flies. If the travel plans are interrupted, such as flights cancelled, missed, or delayed, there may be added costs the parents need to think about beforehand. For lengthy travel, meals and other travel necessities may need to be paid for upfront. If one parent has to drive a great distance to get the child, there may be questions about whether the other parent should help with gas or if that parent should drive an equal distance to take the child back home. Having a plan in place long before a bag is packed can help all parties avoid conflict or any miscommunication over who is responsible for what.

Mode of travel may be an issue a parenting plan for holiday visits needs to address also. The preference of a child might not match the cost ability or comfort level of a parent. Two parents may also disagree over what is best and what is fair. These decisions may require court intervention if a compromise can’t be reached.

A parenting plan for state to state travel and visitation during the holidays should also address the other parent’s right to information and communication. Technology can be useful so a parent can be kept informed as to whether the child got there safely and also as a means to stay up to date on plans. Both parents may want to decide on a schedule that helps the child feel connected but does not encroach on the other parent’s time or authority.

While parents may work out a perfectly acceptable parenting plan to deal with all holiday visits and state to state travel in the beginning, children and plans change each year. The parenting plan that has worked for the last three years might not be feasible today. Parents can mutually agree to revisit a parenting plan every few years to gauge how it is working for everyone. When parents can adjust to these changes and make concessions that satisfy everyone as much as possible, then that method is always best. However, if they can’t adjust or agree on changes, going back to court for a modification may be necessary. When parents can be flexible, respectful, and creative with parenting plans during the holidays, everyone wins.
By Anna Shapiro