How Can I Celebrate My Children’s Birthdays after Divorce?

Divorce when children are involved can be especially emotionally challenging. It is not as easy to sever ties with an ex-spouse when you still have years of coparenting ahead of you. When it comes to parenting schedules, some ex-spouses opt to stick to a firm parenting plan with no room for flexibility.

Other coparents take a more casual approach. The tough part for many ex-couples is how to handle special occasions when both parents want to be involved. If you are newly divorced and wondering how to handle your child’s birthday as coparents, here are some tips to make their special day fun and worry-free.

Your Child Comes First

It is easy to focus on how you imagine celebrating your child’s birthday: the food, the decorations, and the guests. After all, it is a joyous milestone and one that is no doubt important to you. And if you have recently divorced, an upcoming birthday is probably going to stir up a lot of emotions, including memories of past holidays celebrated as a family and worries about an unknown future.

But remember to take a deep breath, pause, and refocus your thoughts and energy on your child and their special day. A birthday is not the time to talk bad about your ex-spouse or introduce a new partner. If you and your ex-spouse are hosting a joint party, rise above the negativity and avoid criticism and bickering. 

This day is all about your child. Focus on making their day special and making happy memories to last a lifetime.

Is a Joint Celebration Feasible?

Many children want both parents at their birthday party. But only you and your ex-spouse can determine if this is a reasonable possibility. Do you have a relatively peaceful coparenting relationship? Can you both put aside your differences and remain civil? Can you work together in a cooperative manner to plan the celebration? If you answer yes to these questions, a joint birthday party may be the right way to go.

Consider Creative Solutions for Celebrating Separately

If you have a contentious relationship with your ex-spouse, a joint birthday party is probably not a good solution. That last thing you want your child to see is their parents fighting on their special day. Coparents who want to host separate celebrations have a few options.

Share the day. If you live in relative proximity to your ex-spouse, consider splitting the day. For example, your child can spend the first part of the day with you, celebrating with family and friends before heading to your ex-spouse’s home for the second round of festivities. This plan is often better for older children, as toddlers and preschoolers may find a longer day too exhausting. Or, if you are hosting a party at another venue, one parent can stay for the first half and the other can host the second half of the event. That may be a bit more manageable for younger children.

Alternate from year to year. When parents live further apart or are not willing to share the child’s actual birthday, they can consider alternating from year to year. One parent has the child on their birthday on the odd-numbered years, for example, with the child spending their birthday with their other parent on the even-numbered years. Many divorced parents use this arrangement not only for birthdays, but also for other major holidays and even vacations.

Celebrate during your parenting time. The final and perhaps most common option is to celebrate your child’s birthday during your scheduled parenting time. For example, when you have physical custody, you can plan a party when your child is with you. Your ex-spouse can host another birthday celebration during their regular visitation time. With this option, children get two birthdays. What child would not love that?

What Does Your Child Want?

When making plans to celebrate your child’s birthday, start by asking what they want. As children get older, especially as they enter the tween and teen years, they are more likely going to have opinions about how, when, and where they want to celebrate. If their ideas are reasonable, follow their lead.

Birthday Celebrations Will Change as Your Child Grows

It is helpful to remember that planning a birthday party for your five-year-old is going to be much different than celebrating when they turn 16. Older children are more invested in their social connections and for them, friends may be a top priority. Keep that in mind as you and your ex-spouse schedule parenting time around your child’s birthday.

Who Pays for the Birthday Party?

Divorced couples may be unclear about who should pay for the child’s birthday party. Again, there are a few different scenarios. Ex-spouses can split the cost of a shared birthday party. They can each pay for their respective celebrations. Or, they can include terms in their divorce agreement clarifying which parent is responsible for covering extra non-essential expenses for things such as parties, vacations, and extracurricular activities.

New Jersey Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements

The details of when children reside and spend time with each parent are spelled out in a parenting plan or child custody agreement. It is basically an outline of how separated or divorced parents will cooperate in raising their children. Birthdays can be included in a parenting plan if that is what the parents wish.

Some divorced parents work out these details through a process called mediation in which they, along with their divorce lawyers, discuss the child support, visitation, and other details and come to a mutual agreement. Couples who cannot settle these issues in mediation turn to the court for resolution. Either way, the final custody order must be approved by a judge.

Parenting plans generally address matters that impact a child’s best interests, such as: 

  • Education
  • Medical care
  • Religious involvement
  • Supervision by grandparents and other caregivers
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Vacations

Parenting plans also cover the child’s primary residence and expenses for their basic needs, including the following:

Physical custody. Physical custody determines where the child lives. Parents can share custody or have an arrangement in which one parent has sole custody with the other having scheduled visitation time as noted in the custody schedule. 

Legal custody. Legal custody defines who makes decisions about the child’s welfare. One parent can have sole legal custody, or both can share legal custody and input in the choices about how to raise their child.

Child support. This ensures both parents contribute to the child’s necessities. The amount is calculated based on a range of factors including who has custody and both parents’ income and expenses.

Compromise Is Key

The reality is, after divorce, only one parent may be able to see the child on their actual birthday. When it comes to birthdays and other holidays and special occasions, only you and your ex-spouse can decide how much you are willing to compromise.

Reduce Conflict with a Solid Parenting Plan

The most effective way to prevent bitter battles and undue stress over these events that should be happy is to set the guidelines for parenting time in your child custody order and parenting agreement. Try not to let a difficult past with your ex-spouse put a damper on what should be a joyous occasion, your child’s birthday.

If you think compromise will be a problem, include clear plans for holidays and special events in your parenting schedule. If your parenting agreement is unclear about birthdays and you anticipate a fight, schedule a meeting with a divorce lawyer to discuss your options. 

Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Resolve Complex Child Custody and Support Matters

If you are coming up on an important family event like your child’s birthday but are unsure about how to manage the day after divorce, the Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. can help. We work with clients to create firm and fair parenting agreements to reduce conflict and encourage positive coparenting. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.