Does Halloween Have to be so Difficult for Unmarried Parents?

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Child Custody and Parenting Plan on Wednesday October 23, 2013

Halloween should be a fun holiday where young children dress up in adorable costumes and get together with their friends to laugh and go trick-or-treating, falling into bed after the end of a sugar high. Unfortunately, for parents who operate under a Parenting Plan, Halloween can bring frustration for both of the parents and also, most distressingly, to the child. Halloween is definitely a kid-centered holiday; how can parents keep it kid-centered in their Parenting Plan?

Usually, Halloween finds its way into a Parenting Plan as an afterthought – it is one of the list of holidays that must be in a Parenting Plan, but it seems to drop down the list of important holidays and as a result usually gets poorly structured. Many Parenting Plans have Halloween alternating every other year between parents and from only 4:00-8:00 p.m. In the event that Halloween falls on a day when the other parent has custody, such a Parenting Plan results in a great deal of back-and-forth for the child and may deprive the child of having an enjoyable and stress-free experience. Parents who cannot get along together will inevitably exclude one parent from the experience, regardless of the interests or input of the child.

Consider this not uncommon scenario. Non-custodial parent A has Halloween; custodial parent B insists on prompt return at 8:00 so that the child can remain in bedtime routine. Parent A indicates that the child wants to trick-or-treat with friends in the neighborhood and have a candy trade afterward, and that all those festivities will not end until 9:00 (or substitute a Halloween party after the trick-or-treating, or some other event that runs past 8:00). Insisting on the return strictly at 8:00 will only hurt the child, as the child will feel deprived of a fun evening and of course will end up resenting one or both parents. Instead of an evening of fun, Halloween becomes another day of parental conflict with a kid in the middle.

Sometimes the mere alternating aspect of Halloween creates problems. If only one parent has Halloween, and the parents do not get along, one parent ends up not experiencing any of the Halloween fun with the child – no seeing the costumes, the kids interacting, the party or other activities. Some parents, knowing that one parent will be left out, may even try and overdo Halloween to make the other parent feel even worse. Some parents, when Halloween is not their year, try and find other Halloween-related activities, but they may not be scheduled on their day and the other parent may not agree to a switch in time. Again, all of these conflicts end up hurting the child the most.

So, what can parents do to make the situation better? Without a Parenting Plan that is kid-centered, essentially nothing – the parents must follow the Parenting Plan. Therefore, parents should give more consideration to the structure of holidays in the Parenting Plan negotiations. If the parents cannot agree to spend time together with the child on Halloween, the parents should realize that carving a few hours out arbitrarily on Halloween only creates problems and diminishes the experience for the child. Instead of having a return to the other parent, the parent with Halloween in this case should have the whole evening with return to school the next morning (or the other parent if on a weekend). Further, to accommodate the non-Halloween parent, that parent should have time for a Halloween-related activity or party, perhaps a “trunk or treat” at school or church, so that parent can enjoy the Halloween experience too. In this way, the child gets at least two great costume-and-candy days, with no back-and-forth and no conflict.

One remaining issue would involve the trick-or-treating as it relates to friends of the child. It is possible that most of the child’s friends live closer to one parent than another so that trick-or-treating with those friends would always lean toward the neighborhood of one parent. If the parents can agree on these logistics for trick-or-treating, no problem exists. However, where parents cannot agree or would feel marginalized by this arrangement, the parents should work together to allow for a positive trick-or-treat experience – talking to parents of some of the child’s friends to make the rounds together in the other parent’s neighborhood, for example. If the child truly wants to trick-or-treat in the one neighborhood every year, the parent who does not have Halloween that year needs to agree to step back and not “hover” or spoil the experience – but the celebrating parent should reciprocate through a second activity on another date, like the “trunk or treat.”

Ideally, the child would really appreciate if parents could work all the details out so that the child has the most fun with the least inconvenience – trick-or-treating with friends, not bouncing back and forth between parents, no pressure, seeing both parents celebrating together. That arrangement would please the child the most, but not all parents seem capable of putting the child first. When that happens, a Parenting Plan should make sure that the next-best option takes place, one where at a minimum the child each year has a full and stress-free Halloween experience with each parent. Otherwise, Halloween happens and everyone feels disappointed – but mostly the child, for whom the holiday is designed. A skilled attorney should anticipate these potential problems and deal with them in writing the Parenting Plan.

If you have questions about holidays and Parenting Plan issues, contact us – our St. Louis divorce attorneys can help.