Modern Family Matters

The Co-Parent’s Survival Guide for Spring Break: Attorney Tips on How to Eliminate Stress & Amicably Plan for Success

March 04, 2022 with Allison Harper Season 1 Episode 47
Modern Family Matters
The Co-Parent’s Survival Guide for Spring Break: Attorney Tips on How to Eliminate Stress & Amicably Plan for Success
Show Notes Transcript

Join us as we sit down with attorney, Allison Harper, to talk through the common problem areas for co-parents who are trying to plan spring break for their children, and steps that can be taken to eliminate conflict and stress for all involved. In this interview, Allison discusses the following:

•    The importance of understanding and complying with your parenting plan before you make plans.
 •    Common spring break expenses and understanding whose responsibility they are.
 •    Safety protocols that are important for co-parents to be on the same page about.
 •    Vacations are going to create special memories for a lifetime – ways that you can 
 •    The value of flexibility AND communicating plans with ample time 
 •    Preparing to bring all necessary documents, insurance information, medical prescriptions and a list of all emergency contacts.
 •    Why not having the kids for spring-break is an opportunity in and of itself.

If you would like to speak with one of our family law attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200, or visit our website at

Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.

Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.

Steve Altishin  0:31  
Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships, for Pacific Cascade Family Law. And today, we're here with family law attorney, Allison Harper, to talk about some common problem areas for co-parents who are trying to plan a spring break vacation for their children, and steps they can take to eliminate conflict and stress for all involved. So joining us now, and how you doing today.

Allison Harper  0:59  
Good morning, Steve. I'm doing great. You know, we got some sunshine here. So all is well.

Steve Altishin  1:06  
We did get sunshine, cold sunshine, but we got sunshine. Well, I liked it. So before we get started, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself?

Allison Harper  1:17  
Yeah, so I am an attorney, as you mentioned, here with Pacific Cascade. I've actually been with the company for about five years now. And I did work as a paralegal before. And so I've really gotten, you know, a lot of client interaction. And I just, I love talking with clients, and helping them work through their family dynamics. And a lot of times, it does involve having these conversations about how to best approach conversations about, vacations and things like spring breaks. So I'm excited to dive deeper in that today.

Steve Altishin  1:51  
Oh good, I'm excited to have you. This is a great topic. It's kind of nuts and bolts, see, but it's practical. And so I really like, getting into this, and sometimes lawyers talk about a lot of legal things, but this has got a lot of just sort of common sense stuff going on. So, I guess the first common sense question I would ask is, when do we start planning?

Allison Harper  2:14  
Yeah. So you know, it's really great to be on top of these things as early as possible. So, right now is a great time with spring break generally landing closer to Easter. And around that time, I don't think you can start these conversations really too soon. The more openness that you're having with your co-parent or pre-planning, I think is just going to yourself help set you up for success for your spring break, to make sure it goes wonderful.

Steve Altishin  2:44  
That makes sense to me. So, I'm going to start with sort of, hopefully a reduced elephant in the room. COVID-19. Right, we're gonna talk about it. It's still here, and I guess it's still going to be a factor in making spring break plans, isn't it?

Allison Harper  3:04  
Yeah, I mean, at least for this year. Hopefully, we are out of the woods for the next, planning your next spring break. But for right now there are some logistics that you really need to consider, especially with your children being either with a daycare provider or a babysitter. You know, in school, a lot of these programs do require you to do COVID tests, or sometimes a mandatory quarantine if you're travel was in different parts of the country or even abroad. I know, for me, my daughter's daycare, and we did have to provide a negative COVID test when we went until recently. So, it's important that you check in, contact the provider to see if there are those requirements, and whether there's a specific type of test that they require, whether it's an "at home" versus the one in the car. So, it's really important to make sure that you gather that information with ample time, and also time to go ahead and make sure that you have all your ducks in a row on that front.

Steve Altishin  4:04  
It's a little tougher right now. It's real transition time. I mean, states are dropping, changing state to state, I mean, going to Hawaii is different than going to Florida. That's different going to New York.

Allison Harper  4:19  
Right. Yeah. And, you know, with things kind of rapidly changing with new variants, we could be having a much different conversation in a couple of weeks from now. So, it's just great to check in to see if there's going to be a mandatory quarantine period. You know, your policies with your workplace, whether if you have, specific COVID leave, or if you need to make arrangements for what it would look like if someone who tested positive were to come in contact with your child or yourself, because likely they wouldn't need to get in tune with you, just based on exposure. And I think it's great to just kind of like you said, get the elephant in the room. Everyone's level of coverage is going to vary right now, things continue to progress. So the more you can just check in, I think, that's just going to eliminate stress all around.

Steve Altishin  5:09  
I agree completely. Let's go on about the parenting plan. Because I know, or I believe, I guess I'm gonna ask you if, if that is something that can actually affect your vacation or any extended time away from the other parent. Right?

Allison Harper  5:27  
Yeah, I would definitely recommend taking a look at the parenting plan, which is likely attached to your judgment that either you previously worked out with your co-parent or their attorneys. It may have been some time since you've looked at that document. So, it's important to just kind of check in, maybe make yourself a little checklist to see if there's certain things that you need to make sure that you communicate with the co- parent, whether that be, sometimes there are specific deadlines that you need to provide the other party in anticipation of extended time away. Typically, we see that more with spring break where one party sometimes has to let the other party know by May 15 what their plans are. But it's important to see if you have something like that surrounding on spring break to give yourself ample time. It's important to know your plan and surrounding whether you need to provide a specific itinerary travel arrangements. And, even thinking about pre-planning in the future, sometimes arrangements with passports, things like that. So it's always important to make sure that you check in with your parenting plan, because you don't want to do something that is in violation of a parenting plan and kind of get yourself in a messy situation.

Steve Altishin  6:36  
Yeah. One quick question, that'll maybe clear the air, and that is, I hear people not really sure about this is, taking your kid to the doctor, if you're not the custody parent, you're on vacation, maybe you have to. 

Allison Harper  6:55  
Right. So, typically, under custody arrangements with parenting plans, if there's some sort of emergency situation that, of course, we want you to go ahead and do that. But you also want to check in to make sure that if your parenting plan has specific provisions on how soon you need to notify your co-parent, that may be 24 hours. So, it's always just a good practice to keep the other parent in the loop on that, and it kind of makes for a not so pleasant conversation that you may have to have later, if something comes up. So, it's just important to make sure that you know what your authority is, if something were to arise with an emergency situation. I always really recommend that people check in with their insurance, make sure they have the appropriate copies of their insurance cards and that they're not expired. Sometimes they're just sitting in your wallet, haven't looked at it in a while. And, make sure if you have preferred pharmacies, you're going to have access to that type of care. And you know, it's not a bad idea to check in to see what your copay may be, and have a little funds , emergency funds with you on your your break. Wouldn't want to have to run into these unanticipated expenses that you don't have the funds for. So, always a great idea to just kind of make a little list for yourself and run through to ensure that you have all the necessary information should an emergency arise. And that can help eliminate any stress around that.

Steve Altishin  8:18  
Well, first, I think I have insurance cards in my wallet dating back to 1982. But that's neither here nor there. You talk just for a minute there about children's expenses. And I know that there are rules concerning children's expenses, and sometimes they can get kind of either blurred or misunderstood, especially on vacation, like who pays for the vacation kind of stuff?

Allison Harper  8:47  
Right? Yeah, so when traveling expenses come up that did kind of ring a little bell in my head. That's kind of a two prong thing that you need to consider. Because if there are expenses outside of insurance, usually your judgment will deal with those unreimbursed costs. On the split that typically we see sometimes a 5050 split, but you may be under some different authority, and it may also have some rules about how soon you need to provide those expenses to ensure that you are within the timeframe to get your reimbursement from your co-parent. So that's really important to check in on the unreimbursed uninsured expense, which very well may come up seeking care outside of your network on vacation. And secondly, our judgment may also contain provisions regarding extracurricular expenses like day camps. Typically, those are expenses that the parties may agree in advance the children may participate in. You may have signed up your child for a science camp during spring break, a day camp if you need alternative care. And it's important to just kind of check in to see what other parents know so that you have all the information and plan accordingly when signing up your child for some of these extra additional expenses.

Steve Altishin  9:59  
That's so logical, and it gets to kind of one of the cruxes of the matters you've hit on a little bit. And that's communication between the parents. It seems like that's a real important thing, right?

Allison Harper  10:14  
Yeah. Communication, I think, is really important. And I know sometimes it can be met with a bit of hesitation if the co-parenting relationship has maybe some little bit of a stress dynamic. But like you said, pre-planning and making sure that we're getting in front of that beforehand, I think can help eliminate a lot of those stressors in that communication, when you are starting to discuss your travel plans.

Steve Altishin  10:39  
Would you think it's a good idea to , I mean, how far do you go in terms of kind of, letting the your co-parent know about your plans? I mean, I know that when we go on vacation we have a document of itinerary and stuff, and is that something you should consider sharing?

Allison Harper  11:01  
I definitely think so. I mean, one per the rules of your judgement, you very well may have specifics that you for sure need to provide, whether that be of accommodations where you're staying, maybe who you're traveling with, things like that. I think I would always advise on erring on the side of caution. You want to give as much information, you'd hate to be in a situation if there's some sort of emergency, and your co-parent has no way of knowing where you are, how to get to you, even if you know there's an emergency with them back home. It's important that there's kind of that two way channels communication, so everyone's on the same, the same page. it's always a great practice, just to write it down, even for yourself. When you're planning a trip and making the itinerary, I definitely am the organizer of that. And I usually have a document of where we're staying, the phone number, anything like that, especially if you're maybe traveling somewhere that's out of a cell phone zone, and you lose GPS, we're so connected to our devices. And I don't think I could get myself out of my neighborhood, sometimes if I didn't have GPS. And we really rely on that. So it's important to kind of have that, that written down if only for yourself, because you never know when you may need to pull it out your back pocket. And you know, pat yourself on the back, and thank yourself for having that easily accessible.

Steve Altishin  12:27  
Little flip switch for a parent who's, let's say the parent, not taking the vacation with the kid. It sort of works on them too. And the same, I mean, because they may have information, especially if the custodial parent that is not necessarily on every piece of information that the other parent necessarily has all the time. And it seems like it might be important for them to share some of this stuff as well. You talk about medications, allergies, you know, that kind of stuff. 

Allison Harper  12:54  
Right! Yeah, especially if you aren't the custodial parent. And maybe it's been a little bit of time, since you exercise this extended chunk of time with your child. A lot of times we'll see in long distance type of co-parenting relationships, the non custodial parent, non primary parent would typically exercise a bulk of the time whether that be during summer, winter break, spring break, like what is upcoming now. So, it may have been several months, since one of the parents has actually spent a large amount of time with the child. So, it's really important to check in to see, has the child gone to the doctor's recently and does he take medication, and you don't know their allergies, it's important to have that list, because again, you wouldn't want to find yourself in a situation where an emergency room and you need access, and you just simply don't have it. And typically, when those things come up, time is kind of of the essence, you sort of need to know, right then and there. And you would need to know, especially if you're traveling and you're in a different time zone, you just may not have that same access to the co- parent for an immediate response if needed. 

Steve Altishin  13:59  
There's a lot of stuff that you are potentially talking about here. And if you are, unlike me, and your technology doesn't go far beyond the pencil and paper, other apps out there or things people can use in this to kind of put this all together and share it?

Allison Harper  14:17  
Yeah, so a lot of co-parents already have some things that up through, you know, their prior case, or you know, when things kind of ended something like "My Family Wizard," that they may have access to that already. So, that's a great tool for communications and stored documents. In addition, if you don't have access to something like that, or funds are preventative for you to have a program that does cost, something like a shared Google document would also be a great accessible document. You know, most people are familiar with Google. And there you can have an active shared spreadsheet that you both can plug information into to update and chat back and forth. And like you said, nothing better sometimes than pen and paper. So, really just go ahead and jot it down. And oftentimes, when you are writing things down, you're more likely to remember something that you may need to follow up with your co-parent or yourself. So it's a great practice to start as soon as you can, making sure that you facilitate that communication.

Steve Altishin  15:18  
Plan communication, again, goes both ways. And a lot of times, it feels like some people, communication just means telling someone else something. But you know, what about, what about a concern that maybe the parent has about some portion of the trip?  I'm gonna go on a vacation to Guatemala, and there's a 17 mile zip line, of these kinds of things that some parents may say, "well, I'm a little concerned about this", I mean, it's important to think about those feelings that the other parent has.

Allison Harper  15:54  
Absolutely. I think that it's never a bad idea to give more consideration. And, also to remember that if your co-parent is expressing concern about a specific activity, it's likely not coming from a bad place, that parent is just thinking about the safety of your child or your children. Do read and talk through the itinerary to see if maybe there's a more age appropriate activity or something else that you can add into the trip that both parties are comfortable with. And it's really important to think about that, especially in light of COVID. And how we talk, since we're not quite out of the woods for this upcoming spring break period, where you may be doing activities and planning to go up to the mountains, or to have sleepovers with some of your kid's friends, or go into family celebrations go for Easter, things like that, where you and your co-parent may have a little bit of disagreement about what that looks like. And I think right now, this flexibility is really key to maybe, just have some considerations of can we really alter the plans a little bit, so everyone's comfortable? Anything you can do to assist in keeping that piece within the co-parenting relationship, keeping it child centered, is really ultimately going to contribute to the success of a long term co-parenting relationship, which is ultimately the goal. I know that that's hard to hear sometimes. But really, your children are at the heart of this. And the more that the parents can work together, you see extreme benefit for the children's perspective and point of view. 

Steve Altishin  17:32  
Yeah, I agree with that. But, so, just a quick couple of, sort of nuts and bolts of planning a vacation, and then some tips that you may have just for parents that are taking their kids on vacation. I know we've talked a little bit about sort of, I think you called it "packing for success", and just preparing for the trip. What are some of those kind of things can you tell us?

Allison Harper  17:57  
Yeah. So, I mean, there's definitely several things that you want to kind of think about in this kind of timeframe, and also really considering the age of your children and where you're at in your co-parenting journey. If this is maybe one of the first big trips that you're taking with your child where maybe they haven't spent time away, or maybe it's their first time on an airplane, oftentimes, the more that you talk about and prepare children for things, the better success they're going to have overall. When we flew with my daughter recently we said, "we're gonna go on the airplane, the suns out, and you may see a lot of new people." I think sometimes we often try to give a lot, a little more credit than due to our little ones, and just what they may be acclimated to. And during these times our kids have experienced a lot of change, and they've been coming from a period of being more isolated, and not around their friends and family members. So, I think really preparing your children and having these talks with them about this really exciting trip, we're going to share the itinerary with your children, let them have input. And also, at some times of the year, there may be some sort of tradition that maybe we did with the co-parent for several years. Is there a special camping trip or an event that takes time or takes place in the year, and maybe, give some credit to that, because what you may not realize, is that your child may remember that that's important to them. Really having patient and open communication, even with your children, I think is kind of helping them "pack for success" too. And you know, when a co-parent spends a ton of money and time talking about this wonderful trip, and not checking in with our kids to see if this is something that they're excited about or they if have reservations, it's really important to take those things into consideration. As well as, so that you just can enjoy your time together and create those really special family memories.

Steve Altishin  20:10  
I know that you talked about especially orienting kids new to this, and the first time we took our kids on a vacation that was not nearby, timezone kind of became something they we weren't ready for, and doing the whole bedtime. And, when people call them, I think we had our grandparents call, it was about three in the morning or something, those kinds of things can happen get there.

Allison Harper  20:39  
Right, so it's really important. Also, when you're checking in on your parenting plan and your judgment, to make sure that you can comply with regularly scheduled phone calls or FaceTime visits. Often the, so to speak, "off parent" has certain set phone calls, FaceTime visits, and you want to take this into account. "Oh, I'm three hours ahead, we need to adjust." So, it's not a bad idea to have a "check in" kind of time to say, are we gonna be able to keep this on schedule? Do we maybe need to offer another set of times that work for the other parent with the change in time zones? And the earlier you can have that conversation, I think, then the other co-parent is generally a lot more receptive, versus if you're springing it on them right before they're scheduled to talk. And you're saying, "Oh, hey, we're actually out doing this activity. I'm sorry, they can't come to the phone, you're having this wonderful, fun vacation." And it's important just to make sure you're checking in with your co-parent, and that they still have access to the child or children as well, so that they can check into and hear about the trip, or just because they miss them as well.

Steve Altishin  21:49  
Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I guess a parent could get upset if they call, but you're on Splash Mountain, and you can't answer. But, then you come back and show them. Yeah, this is what we were doing that makes everybody feel better. Absolutely. You talk also about flexibility being important. Sometimes you just have to change your plans, at least a little bit, I guess.

Allison Harper  22:17  
Right? Absolutely. You know, again, with COVID right now, there's always a chance that maybe you or your child falls ill before a big trip that you've been planning and you've been anticipating, and of course, you're going to be disappointed. But, flexibility is just so important. Is there that special camping trip you're planning on going to, and they're just not looking like it's gonna work out with weather, or illness or just some other unanticipated event. So, drag a tent to the backyard, fire up some s'mores on the oven, or the barbecue. And I guarantee just that those small efforts, sometimes can really go  such a long way, and really creating such a fun memory. And maybe it could become a new tradition that you camp in the backyard, with the neighbors, whatever that may be, or if you want to invite some friends over, so that, if something doesn't work out. I think that there's always a way that you can make up for some missed time if you plans kind of fell through.

Steve Altishin  23:23  
Everything that we're hearing, just sounds like great advice for parents and co-parents, taking their kids, and I imagined this advice, isn't just obviously for spring break advice, but just kind of a any special moment advice in the world of co parenting.

Allison Harper  23:48  
Yeah, a lot of times, sometimes these special trips can be cause for just a little bit of a different dynamic with the co-parent just because, sometimes if someone is staying home, they may be a little bummed or this is a fresh separation from the parties and just really dynamic for everyone. So, I think if there's something you can do, just to kind of extend that olive branch, whether that be your parents and photos of your child with a theme park character, or at the beach, or whatever they may be doing. Your child is probably very excited to tell mom or dad back home. And, maybe they want to pick up a souvenir, something to share that experience, and I definitely would encourage that just because, it's friendliness, I think goes a long, long way. And again, your child is probably so excited to share this wonderful trip and memories with their co-parent or even other family members as well.

Steve Altishin  24:49  
I love to sew their idea, and talk about bringing everybody involved and feeling good about it. That's that's a great debt. Okay, so shifting a little bit, and we've talked a little bit about this, but the parent who is staying home, do you have any advice or some tips or something to talk to them? They're the ones staying home? What would you tell them if they came in and said, "they're going on this great trip and I'm not happy because no one asked me anything about it." But we just, we just stayed home. 

Allison Harper  25:25  
Yeah, you know, I think, use that as an opportunity to have some alone time. I mean, kids are chaotic. I think everyone can acknowledge a break is very welcomed. And a lot of times, we don't even realize how much a break can be welcomed, because we're just often not in an opportunity to maybe have that extended time. So, use that as, "is there maybe a trip that you've been wanting to plan for yourself, go to visit some family members?" We've all been away from a lot of our family for quite extended periods of time, and there's definitely some things that you can plan on for yourself. You don't have to just be sitting at home. And if you have, maybe some vacation stacked up, it's not about a bad idea to consider investing in you. And ultimately, a break is just such a wonderful thing to do if you have that opportunity to also give yourself that time to deep breath. And, just to kind of unwind, so you don't have to think of it as, "you're just sitting at home and you're missing out." You can go and create some memories for yourself and focus on you during that time as well.

Steve Altishin  26:37  
Maybe think about something that I hadn't thought about leaving for the vacation or the coming home from the vacation. I know that parenting plans have fairly strict rules about pickup time pickup plays, all of those things. How does that work with maybe a vacation? Or an airplane trip or something like that? And is that something that needs to be sort of taken into consideration?

Allison Harper  27:05  
Definitely. Again, I would definitely first start out with looking at your judgment or parenting plan. You may already have that language built in about drop offs, pickups, flights, etc, that already may be there. That's something that you contemplated ahead of time, especially if you're in a long distance situation. And if not, again, start early with that communication, share the travel plans. Think about, and anticipate landing at PDX x time. How do we want to facilitate getting there at that time, if maybe the other parent wants to know, there's likely maybe a little bit of transition time as well, just on the logistics of bring your travel. And, you may be in a situation where you need to consider offering some makeup time. I think the more that you can anticipate when those things come up, the better off you will be. During your spring break or other vacation, you just want to make sure you're checking in and they're communicating with you, to eliminate the surprises, and you're not ambushing someone with plans, I think you're setting yourself up for more successful and fruitful conversation.

Steve Altishin  28:14  
So we're almost done. We're running out of time, this was really, really good. Just maybe a couple of questions or tips for the child or the children are either feeling guilty, or they're feeling a little apprehensive, those kinds of things? Would you tell the co-parent? 

Allison Harper  28:39  
Yeah, I think oftentimes, we can agree that children are creatures of habit. They're used to their routines, maybe the time that they're spending with each parent, schooling, etc. So, sometimes going on a trip for an extended period of time may bring up a little bit of anxiety for your child. So, talk to them, get their input, and maybe show them photos of where you're going to go, and have them give input of where they're going to, things that they're going to do. And if they're expressing some apprehension of leaving the other parent, encourage, encourage it. Tell them that they're going to have such a wonderful time with their other parent, and you're talking about what things that they're going to be doing, talk about it. Help them pack their clothes, if there are certain things they need. And also, children feed off of our emotions. So if you're kind of bashing the co-parent, or showing that you're a little sad about the trip, they're probably going to go into the trip, you wouldn't want them to go to the other parent and say, "Mom or Dad said this about the trip," those kinds of things. That's just not really appropriate. And, it's likely that you're going to be in this situation for many spring breaks or summers, so it kind of can help you at the start, from the beginning. So is this an opportunity to be bigger and extend that olive branch, start over, and turn the page and have a fresh start. Anything you can do to just really encourage and facilitate such a wonderful trip, whether it's you taking it or you sending off your child, really sit down and think about, "how can I make this the best experience possible for my child?"

Steve Altishin  30:22  
Don't use it as a sword. Don't make it a competition.

Allison Harper  30:27  
Right? Absolutely.

Steve Altishin  30:30  
Well, thank you, Alison. This was wonderful. And really, really thank you for being here. Today, I decided on ways to prepare for spring break. There's great ways to make it good for everyone and to plan ahead. And I thank you for joining us.

Allison Harper  30:48  
You're welcome. It was great to be here. And if you have questions about your parenting plan, or logistics, it's not a bad idea to reach out to maybe your attorney, we can help you beforehand, give us a call. We're happy to look at those logistics and help you review your parenting plan or see if we need to address further. Yep. Totally.

Steve Altishin  31:10  
Great advice. Thank you. And thank everyone again for joining us today. If anyone, as Allison said has questions on today's topic and you concerns you can either post them here or you can get in touch with us. We can connect you with Allison. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, stay happy.

Allison Harper  31:33  
And goodbye. Alright, enjoy spring break.

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