Custody and Visitation During the Holidays

The holiday season is a time for friends and family to get together and create lasting memories. Your children cannot wait to make S'mores and drink hot chocolate while watching their favorite holiday movie. Watching the smiles on their faces can instantly light up a room. As a Family Law attorney for over 15 years, I would like to believe that I have seen it all. The unfortunate reality is that for some parents, the holiday season can be contentious when it comes to custody and visitation. If the holidays is a time of contention for you, the good news is that I can show you how to relieve some of the anxiety so that you do not miss out on the joy that the holidays have to offer.

It may seem like you have time to plan for the upcoming holiday season with your children. You believe you have time to browse gifts for the family, plan travel, and decide what dish you will be bringing to the table. Actually, now is the time to solidify plans, and even seek Court intervention, if necessary. Below are quick tips that can help you during the holiday season.

Take a good look at your custodial schedule. Examine the holiday portion of your custodial schedule. Often the schedules for the Winter holidays have a plan for the few weeks the children are out of school for Winter Break, with a separate notation for the time spent with each parent on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Pull up the school schedule for your children and know which days they will be out of school, and compare that to your holiday schedule. The Winter Break is typically split into two portions, with the exchange either on December 24th or 25th, or the days off from school divided evenly. Is there something special you would like to do with your children this year? Make sure that the kids will be with you on that special day, and request adjustments now, if necessary by filing a Request for Order (RFO) or working out a plan with the other parent.

Extended family holiday traditions. Each family celebrates in a different way, and you want your children to be a part of those times with your parents, siblings, aunts, cousins, etc. Perhaps your family has a big dinner on Christmas Eve, exchanging gifts as the clock strikes midnight. These may be some of your favorite memories growing up, memories that you would like to pass along to your children. If your holiday schedule does not allow for this, speak with the other parent to see if you can agree on an alternate schedule that will allow your children to participate in your family tradition. Offer to give the other parent the majority of Christmas Day every year so that the children can share the experience ON Christmas Eve with your family. Consider what you know about the other parent’s holiday traditions and see if you can work around that.

Holiday Travel. If your family lives out of the area, the holidays present a challenge for travel. Make travel plans early. If you must fly for Christmas, present the proposed schedule to the other parent as soon as you can, and see if there are adjustments that can be agreed upon. Flying back home early on Christmas morning so the children can spend time with the other parent is stressful and busy, and the children will be exhausted by the time they arrive home. Propose that for this year, you fly back on the 26th, and next year the other parent can have all of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in exchange.

Court Intervention. Sometimes agreements are impossible, especially if you have an unreasonable parent on the other side. You will need to seek an order from the Court to confirm a holiday schedule, or to adjust if there are extenuating circumstances. Let’s say your order has your children splitting December 25th with both parents, but you have received news that this is likely your grandmother’s last Christmas, and she lives in Florida. You have tried to work out changing the holiday schedule to allow your children to see their great-grandmother one last time, but the other parent unreasonably refuses. You may file a Request for Order, a request for the Court to hear your wishes. In your RFO, you must state what you want and why. It takes about 6 to 8 weeks after filing the RFO before you can face the Judge at a hearing, so filing early is essential. The other parent will have a chance to respond. After consideration of both sides, the judge will approve or deny your request, or may propose an alternate holiday schedule entirely. Even after you have filed a Request for Order, continue to work with the other parent to come to an agreement, if possible; you can always take the hearing off-calendar if you are able to agree on the holiday plans.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the holiday schedule does not work in your favor. You have tried reasoning with the other parent to agree on an alternative schedule, and the Court denied your request. Hope is not lost. Have your holidays with the children, just on a different day. Decorate your home with holiday gear and have “Christmas 2.0” the next Saturday. Invite your family over for a Christmas-Do-Over, and exchange cards, eat a big meal, and sing carols. December 25th is one day, but the memories you make with your children on your Christmas will last forever.

Shauna M. Albright,

Founding and Managing Attorney

The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.

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