Among all the changes that come when a couple goes through a divorce, parents often say sharing their child’s birthday is one of the biggest adjustments they must make. If you are newly divorced, you may be wondering how to celebrate your child’s next birthday as coparents. Even if you want to spend the day with your child, it may fall during your ex-spouse’s parenting time, or they may have different ideas about how to spend the occasion.
This discussion offers solutions to this common roadblock to make the day special for your child, peaceful for you, and memorable for friends and family.
Include Birthdays in Your Parenting Agreement
One of the most effective ways to prevent arguments and battles about children’s birthdays is to plan ahead. If you have not already, ask your divorce lawyer about including something in your parenting plan about what to do for your child’s birthday. If you can agree to the terms in mediation, great. If not, the courts will decide if you switch child custody on birthdays from year to year or share the day.
Even if your parenting plan has already been created, you can ask your ex-spouse to agree to revise it with a formal plan for birthdays and other special occasions. If they do not agree, you must file a motion in court. You should weigh the advantages and disadvantages to determine if legal action is worth the time, money, and stress in this case.
The hope is you and your ex-spouse can agree on one of the options below out of court, under the guidance of your divorce lawyers.
Have One Party
This day is about your child. It would probably make them happy to spend their birthday with both parents. If you have a good relationship with your ex-spouse and are certain you can avoid conflict, consider having one party.
This works best in a neutral location such as a movie theater, bowling alley, park, or favorite restaurant. If you want to invite extended family, remind them to be on their best behavior as well. You child’s special day is not the time to bring up past hurts and resentments.
Take Shifts during the Party
One adjustment to the single party idea keeps things simple but gives ex-spouses space from each other. Some coparents host one party at an outside location and take shifts at the event. Therefore, perhaps Dad attends for the first hour and Mom takes over for the second. This way, the child spends time with both parents and does not have to travel from location to location. Parents can also split the cost of the party and supplies.
Opt for Separate Parties
Although a single, family birthday party is a great idea in theory, it just is not practical for many divorced couples. Some divorces are more contentious than others. If spending the day together is likely to lead to arguments, avoid a joint party at all costs.
If you and your ex-spouse live nearby, consider hosting two birthday parties. For example, Mom can take the child out for bowling and pizza in the afternoon, and Dad can host friends and family for birthday cake and ice cream in the evening. This way, the child can see both parents and both sides of the family on their actual birthday.
The disadvantage to this option is it can be a long and tiring day, especially for younger children. Teens and tweens who invite friends to their birthday may not want to leave them to go the other parent’s home. What works one year may not work the next.
Alternate Year to Year
Another option for scheduling parenting time around your child’s birthday is to switch who gets the child for the birthday from year to year. Mom might get odd years, while Dad gets the even years. Coparents who do not get along, live at a great distance from each other, or just want the entire day with the child can use this schedule.
Of course, the downside to this plan is that one parent does not get to see the child on their birthday. In that case, they can celebrate another day that week. Although it may be hard for you, you might be surprised how easily your child adjusts. They might prefer to spend their birthday with both parents, but they may not be opposed to having two birthday parties in one year.
Questions to Ask When Planning Your Child’s Birthday
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to handle birthdays after divorce. It really depends on your relationship with your ex-spouse. How you interact, communicate, and coparent your child will help you determine the best arrangement for your youngster.
Before you make a plan, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there animosity between you and your ex-spouse?
- Will you permit new partners to attend the party?
- Are either one of you likely to pick a fight at the party?
- How do you each get along with your in-laws?
- Will your behavior change around each other?
- Will your child sense tension between you and your ex-spouse?
- How involved is your ex-spouse in the child’s life?
- How long has it been since your divorce?
- When is the last time you both attended something together, and how did it go?
- Does your child want to spend their birthday with both parents?
Put Your Child First
This last piece of advice is really the most important. When thinking about how to celebrate your child’s birthday, follow their lead. After all, it is their day. Ask them what they want to do for their birthday and work with your ex-spouse to accommodate their wishes, within reason of course.
As children get older, it is even more important to give children some input in the plan, understanding their needs change over time as peers and socializing become more important. The schedule in your parenting plan for your five-year-old’s birthday may not work when your child turns 14 or 15.
Your Feelings Matter as Well
Your child’s best interests should always be the motivation for decisions about custody, visitation, and parenting time in general. But before you commit to spend the day with your ex-spouse, check in with yourself and your own feelings.
Divorce is a major life event, and one that requires time and space to heal. If it is hard to see your former spouse, or if they have moved on and you are not quite there yet, sharing the day may not be the right option, for now. Your child is likely to pick up on your pain and sadness, and that can overshadow their day.
The last thing you want to do on a day that is supposed to be joyful is pretend to be okay if you are not. If your feelings are still raw and you would rather not see your ex-spouse, it is okay. Choose a plan that allows you to be there for your child but offers some space from your ex-spouse.
However you choose to celebrate your child’s birthday after divorce, it is always smart to start discussing the day at least a few months ahead. This way, you have more time to make a plan and iron out any kinks ahead of time. When your child’s special day rolls around, everyone will be in a good place and ready to have fun and make memories.
Somerville Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., Help Clients Create Fair and Effective Parenting Plans through Mediation
Birthdays and holidays are just one piece of the coparenting puzzle you will deal with during divorce. The Somerville child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., understand that sharing custody for these special events is not always easy. That is why we do all we can to resolve child custody matters peacefully and effectively to reduce conflict and legal battles going forward. 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.