The most significant part of any divorce, for parents, must be child custody, visitation, and support. If you take the view shown in Virginia’s laws, you will place the best interests of your children above your own wishes. Yet your kids’ birthdays tug especially strong at your heart strings, especially during separation. What to do?

Birthdays & Splitting Parenting Time

Congratulations on confronting this issue head-on. Resolving the sticky issues of visitation for special occasions will make some of the other conflicts less … conflict-y. Birthdays, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and religious holidays are all part of an effective parenting plan.

You have at least six options, though you may be able to brainstorm more:

  1. Alternate years
  2. Alternate children
  3. Split the day
  4. Share the day
  5. Let the children choose
  6. Double the fun

Whichever plan you choose, you must have a parenting plan in your separation agreement. Your property settlement agreement (aka separation agreement) must address child custody, parenting time, and child support.

Alternate Years

One of you could have each child as she or he celebrates an even-numbered birthday, and the other has the odd-numbered birthdays. You both must be of stout hearts to make this work, since so many early milestones pile up in those tender years.

Alternate Children

For ease of illustration, let’s say you and your separating spouse produced four fine fun-size folks:

  • Abby
  • Bob
  • Carla
  • Doug

This year, you are blessed with celebrating Abby and Bob’s big days, and your separating spouse enjoys Carla’s and Doug’s delightful days. Next year, you switch; you get the birthday bash for Carla and Doug and she gets to celebrate with Abby and Bob.

Split the Day

Nothing in Virginia law stipulates how parenting time (also called visitation) is divided. The law and common sense say to make parenting time frequent, meaningful, and equitable, but you can absolutely divide a single day between parents.

You have Abby, Bob, Carla and Doug from rise-n-shine time to 2 p.m. Then they go to their mother from 2 p.m. to bedtime. One drawback to this is that the first parent is often accused of wearing out the kids, filling them with too much birthday cake, or lessening the impact of the also-ran parent’s afternoon festivities. Plan with your separating spouse ahead of time to balance both celebrations.

Share the Day

You and your spouse are separating, and you can do nothing to help, aid, or please the other. That’s the law. It is also the law that you can attend common family functions together. You can both

  • Attend Abby’s amazing all-girl Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium
  • Be at the birthday bash for Bob
  • Celebrate Carla’s quinceanera
  • Do up Doug’s day at D-Bat in Virginia Beach

No need for friction between you two: just do nothing for your separating spouse, and remind her to do nothing for you. No fetching cold ones, no hugs with each other, no unpacking her car to set up the party table.

Let the Children Choose

This is a good option for older children of parents who trust each other. For teens especially, a forced birthday celebration is embarrassing and awkward. Let the kids choose which parent each would like to spend the birthday with, but avoid campaigning for their affections:

  • If their mother says she planned a quiet family dinner at her house, do not try to top her with tickets to indoor go-karts and all-you-can eat pizza
  • If you say you will take the birthday boy and four friends to the movies, his mother should not outbid you by saying was planning a hot-air balloon ride for 12

In “keeping score,” take the long view, not just this year and next. She should get roughly the same number of birthday moments that you get over each child’s … er … childhood.

Double the Fun

Some parents feel that two separate birthday celebrations, at two separate houses, gives each parent the special time they yearn for. For children who can understand what the two parents are doing, separate birthday parties on two separate days can work.

One parent may have the child for the birth date itself and celebrate however parent and child wish. Then, at the next visitation, the other parent has a belated birthday for the same child.

Both parents should coordinate to ensure the child is not overwhelmed with too many gifts, duplicate presents, or an unhealthy amount of cake and ice cream.

Parents of little children need to be very mindful that small children lack logic; this arrangement can confuse them. Newly minted five-year-old Abby, celebrating with Mom on Thursday, might think she then turns six when she goes to Dad on Saturday.

The Best Interests of The Child, Always

Whatever you, your separating spouse, and your children determine, make it legal with The Perfect Divorce packet available from Virginia’s Circuit Courts will only honor a marital agreement if it shows a sincere effort to hold the best interests of your children above your own interests.