Scheduling vacations, holidays and special days are time-consuming and exhausting. Who’s hosting Thanksgiving? Do you need to make travel arrangements? Do you really have to invite that pesky Uncle who falls asleep during dinner? Do you need to exchange your vacation plans or negotiate any revisions to your custody agreement with your former spouse or partner? Add to this a difficult ex and you may as well just give up now. But there’s hope. Here are some helpful tips to negotiating/finalizing your vacation plans with that difficult ex.
1. Suggest using online tools. There are various co-parenting websites that help facilitate scheduling. One popular online resource is “Our Family Wizard.” This website offers various tools to schedule and track parenting time, family information, and manage expenses. Nowadays, it can be difficult to follow a parade of texts/emails. At a minimum, this tool can help expedite the process and at least keep the communications in one useful location.
2. Start negotiations early. If you know that your ex is going to be difficult, make your proposal for the holidays early on. While you may have a court-ordered holiday schedule, oftentimes things come up and the earlier on they are addressed, the more time you have to negotiate a resolution, and if necessary, file a motion.
3. Be flexible and have an open mind. Maybe your ex doesn’t agree with all of your proposed schedule changes, but maybe there are a few they do. They may want to propose some revisions to accommodate their schedule as well. Remember, you don’t need to win every battle and a compromise may benefit your child(ren) and give you much needed credibility in the eyes of your judge – should your matter proceed to court.
4. Sit down and hammer it out. Rather than engage in an endless stream of text messages or emails, if you can tolerate it, ask them to sit down at a neutral location (ie local coffee shop). Oftentimes, a conversation can relay more than a text and if you are asking the other party to make changes to a court order having people around can help limit heated conversations. Plus, it is always harder to say no to someone’s face than in a text!
5. Propose private mediation, co-parenting counselor or parenting coordinator: Sometimes just sitting down and hammering it out with a qualified mediator can save you a lot of back and forth and help limit the tension.
a. A co-parenting counselor is particularly helpful if you and your ex are somewhat amicable and have reached some agreements, but need help finalizing the details. However, keep in mind that if you do not reach an agreement, you are back to square one and nothing is binding until filed with the Court.
b. A recommending counselor is another option if you foresee substantial difficulty obtaining any agreements. A recommending counselor has the ability to hear your issues and then, if you are unable to reach an agreement, submit their recommendations to the Court regarding what they think the schedule should be. Keep in mind, however, that in order to appoint a recommending counselor, you need to obtain your exes consent.
c. Another option is a parenting coordinator / special master. A parenting coordinator can be bestowed the same authority as the Court and can issue orders that go into effect immediately (with some important exceptions). If you want an issue resolved quickly and do not have time to wait for a Court hearing, this is a viable option. Keep in mind that parenting coordinators can be costly.
6. If you have to, file a motion for the Court to issue an order. But do it early! The Court’s are not inclined to grant emergency holiday/vacation requests unless it is a ‘true’ emergency. If you do go to court, do your best to get a detailed Court order. This gives both parties more certainty and makes it less likely you will run into problems in the future. You can always modify later by mutual agreement.
7. Remember, the kids come first. If you have to file a motion, focus on the children’s best interests and not the other parties’ unreasonableness. No matter how unreasonable you think the other party is, there is no guarantee the Court will agree with you so keeping the focus on the children is always a better tactic.