Catherine Spanu, Burns & Levinson

Catherine Spanu, Burns & Levinson

When summer and school vacations approach, many divorcing spouses wonder: what happens with the children and the parenting plan? Do I get to take them for vacation, and sign them up for camps? What happens if my coparent refuses to let me take the children to my family reunion that only happens once every ten years?

Summers and school vacations can be stressful due to the changes in routine alone. That stress can be exacerbated by issues communicating with your coparent, or by uncertainty about vacation parenting plans and travel arrangements.

There are no hard and fast rules on these issues under Massachusetts law. However, to minimize stress and disruption for you and, most importantly, for your children, it is useful to know what is typical for coparenting and parenting plans during school and summer vacations, as well as how to address issues that may arise around vacations and coparenting.

A preliminary issue to consider is what is typically ordered by a judge, or agreed to between divorcing parents, as far as summer and school vacation parenting plans:

  • February/April Vacations: Massachusetts public schools typically have two week-long vacations, one in February and one in April. These vacations are
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Three Tips to Help You Navigate the Holidays

When you are divorced with kids, Christmas and Hanukkah can become minefields that make previous family headaches look simple. But there’s good news: There are a number of steps that you can take ahead of time to make things better for everyone involved.

It pays to go into the holiday season with a plan. This year, I’m offering three helpful tips that will allow you to do just that.

  1. Remember and enshrine the idea that the holiday isn’t about you. It’s about making it calm, fun, and memorable for your kids. First, work out the parenting strategy in advance, and let the kids know what is going to happen and when. Make sure you don’t convey to the kids that you are going to be lonely without them. Figure out what you’ll be doing, tell your kids, and let them know that you will have fun and be fine—and that they should have fun and will be fine with the other parent. Kids pick up on emotions very easily and tend to feel responsible for a parent’s happiness in divorce. There is a pretty general standard plan when dealing with Christmas parenting time, assuming the kids aren’t
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Tricky Halloween Parenting

When I was a child, Halloween was the day my father came home from work early to walk my sister, brothers, and I around the neighborhood in the costumes my mother made. Store-bought costumes were out of the question. The rule was that all homework had to be done before we could go out. While my dad walked up and down neighbors’ driveways with us, my mother stayed home to hand out candy that she stockpiled in a big ceramic pumpkin. My mom loved to see all of the costumes on the children who came to the door. When we got home, she checked our loot for anything suspicious, which also gave her the chance to steal those Nestle Crunch bars she coveted.

Families have different rules and traditions surrounding Halloween. But when parents decide to separate and divorce, things inevitably change. Some parents hold tight to try to keep traditions alive, while others seek to immediately change things. Parents often cannot agree on who will buy the costumes and who will take the children trick-or-treating. Sometimes, parents insist that they both walk around with the children, which is good solution in situations that are truly amicable, but creates … Keep reading

Hi there,

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and with it all of the holidays of the season! This time of year is particularly tough for folks who are just getting used to a coparenting situation. It’s also a challenging time for divorce lawyers and family courts, as lots of families are unable to settle holiday scheduling differences without recourse to the courts.

This year:

  • Thanksgiving is on November 26.
  • Hanukkah is December 6-14.
  • Christmas falls on a Friday.
  • Kwanzaa is December 26-January 1.

Work Together to Figure Out Your Schedule for the Holidays

If you haven’t already created a holiday parenting schedule with your ex, you should contact them right away to work out the details. Not everyone has a plan already set either by agreement or judgment, so if you can’t agree on your own you may need to contact your attorney to sort out the situation. With the timeframes for setting motion dates and the court scheduling problems that may arise, this needs to be tackled as soon as possible.

In most cases, scheduling should be possible without court intervention. There are a number of ways to share the holidays, and … Keep reading

Halloween Parenting Tips

Happy Halloween!

Gypsy McSweeneyWhile this day can be a bit of a challenge for divorced or divorcing parents, it’s one of the most exciting days of the year for kids (and pets, according to my colleague Beth Waterfall-McSweeney and her cat, Gypsy).

On Halloween it all comes down to keeping it fun for the kids — it’s a kids’ holiday so keep the grown-up drama out of it. This article has some good parenting tips for ex-spouses on Halloween, including the following, which I couldn’t agree with more:

“Put your children first. Remember this is their fun day, so don’t lose perspective and hold tight to a visitation schedule that may force them to spend their time away from their friends simply because it’s your designated time with your child. In truth, it’s not your time or your ex’s time… it’s your child’s time.”


Nancy… Keep reading

Not So Happy Valentine's Day

Hi there,

Valentine's Day chocolatesI love Valentine’s Day.  Actually, I love anything that includes chocolate.

I wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day.  If this happens to be a lousy one for you, I am sorry — you are not alone.  Valentine’s Day is actually a busy season for divorce lawyers.  I’ve always felt, anecdotally, that this was so but now there is some hard proof.

We now know it happens but not why.  If you chose to start your divorce process for some reason tied to Valentine’s Day, I’d love to know why.



 … Keep reading

Hi there,

If you follow me on Twitter you know I am a political junkie.  Politics affects our lives in many aspects.  Good political functioning requires compromise.  Reading both sides’ bitter complaints about the fiscal cliff agreement, it is clear that the deal represents a compromise.  Everyone is unhappy to some degree.  They are glad it is over, but still they are unhappy.

Healthy divorce requires compromise too.  A divorce trial is like the fiscal cliff; it keeps getting closer and closer and no matter what the lawyers tell you, the outcome is uncertain.  Good attorneys will try to get their clients to compromise.  The attorneys know that seldom does either side get everything they want, and they try to reach a result that everyone can live with.  Like politicians, attorneys suffer from the results of their own posturing.  If clients don’t understand that compromise is inevitable, either by agreement or judicial fiat, then they can’t make the adjustments necessary to settle.

I am not sure how you teach this other than through the harsh realities of the litigation process itself.  Divorce is an inherently unhappy proceeding and compromise almost always feels like losing AGAIN.  But it isn’t.  Done … Keep reading

Hi there,

It’s coming up on Halloween and the pet stores are selling pet costumes…

I have two big dogs and one very tough cat, and while I don’t think I’m going to be buying them costumes any time soon, I do understand the urge.  We think of and feel about our pets the way we do our children.  If you don’t have kids, your pets fill that slot.  I’m a grandmother and I refer to the dogs as “my boys.”

Any person, pet or child (am I anthropomorphizing or what here?) who is loved and who is in the middle of a divorce can become the subject (object?) of acrimony.  We have had cases here at Burns & Levinson that dealt with custody of dogs, cats and once, memorably, a horse.  I have negotiated, admittedly as part of a multimillion dollar divorce, an extremely detailed visiting plan for a dog.  There isn’t any case law in Massachusetts that treats animals as anything other than property, but that doesn’t stop pet owners from feeling otherwise.

Divorce is not the only time we think of pets.  For example, Leona Helmsley’s $12 million bequest to her Maltese triggered a lot of … Keep reading