Holidays and Summer Vacation: Avoid the Fight before the Fun

The months leading up to the regular federal income tax deadline on April 15 usually mean that I rarely see friends or acquaintances who are accountants.  I often tell people that for a family law attorney, October through December is a similarly busy season.  The reason: time with children during the “major” holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years, are divided or split between parents or custodians who do not reside in the same household. Without proper planning and legal advice, disagreements about the holiday schedule occur and often escalate into court involvement and increased co-parenting discord.    These times should be enjoyed by both children and parents, but arguments over the schedule lead to miserable holidays for everyone.

Unfortunately, these disagreements usually do not occur until the parents discuss their plans as these holidays approach.  Parents discover for the first time in November or December that their view of Thanksgiving or Christmas visitation is not the same as the other parent’s view.   This disconnect leads to one (or both) parents threatening court action to bring some certainty to the holiday schedule.  But most courts do not agree that disputes over holidays are “emergencies,” so a November or December request for a judge’s decision on holiday schedules will often not have a court date until after the holiday passes.    

Summer Break & Custody – The Longest Holiday of the Year

The Holidays are not the only time of the year when advance planning is helpful. Summer, especially when the children are school-aged and on break, can cause similar arguments between parents. One parent may schedule a vacation months in advance, lining up accommodations and making activity reservations, only to find that the other parent has other plans for the children that week. Summers are also notoriously difficult to get court hearings scheduled, as judges take their own vacations or attend training conferences.

What to Consider for your Holiday and Summer Custody Schedule

Proper planning and advice from an experienced family law attorney can ensure that holidays are addressed in your custody and visitation schedule order or agreement ahead of the busy holiday season so you can focus on the time with your children. These key points will help avoid a miserable holiday for you and your children.

  1.  Sometimes the parties can “agree to agree.”  If parents have a good relationship with each other and are flexible with each other’s requests for time, then it is possible to have generic provisions in an order that allows flexibility year-to-year.  The custody agreement  can state that parties will agree on a visitation schedule for a particular holiday, or will allow each parent to spend time with the children on a particular holiday.  In determining whether this arrangement will work for you and the other party, remember you will likely not be able to get the court date to set a holiday schedule in the event disagreements arise until after the holiday season. Parents who know they will likely disagree may want to avoid this open-ended term and deal with the negotiations ahead of time.
  2. If possible, plan a schedule that allows the children to see each parent on each holiday.   Despite anger and disputes between the parents, in most cases, children benefit from seeing both parents on many holidays.  If both parents live in the same area, and neither travels for holidays, consider a schedule that allows children to split the day between the parents.  It will benefit the children to see each parent on the holiday, and then both parents can experience the day with the children – making memories, taking photos and forming or continuing special traditions.  This schedule will not work if one or both parents travel outside of the area for holidays.
  3. Consider which holidays or what time during certain holidays are important to each parent.  If one parent attends religious services on certain holidays and the other does not, consider planning the schedule to accommodate the faith tradition of both parents.  Plan the schedule in such a way that the parent who attends a religious service has the child during the service times.  The other parent can then have the child for another portion of the day.  Similarly, consider when each parent’s family celebrates certain holidays.  If one parent’s celebration is always for lunch or early in the day for certain holidays, and the other parentalways celebrates later in the day, or on the weekend before or after a holiday, consider a schedule that allows the children to attend the celebration of each parent. If a schedule for traditions conflict, consider alternating even and odd years so the children can make memories with both parents.
  4. If you and your child’s other parent frequently argue over matters involving the children, specifically define the holiday and summer schedule.  It may seem silly to define Halloween as “October 31”, or Winter Break as the time period from the time that school ends on the last school day in December to the time that school recommences in January.  There is a reason that you and the other parent frequently argue:  you view things differently in regards to the children and find it hard to agree.  Specifically defining when each holiday or break begins and ends (including date and time) will avoid uncertainty and fights over who has parenting time with the children at what times. If there is no recurring date, such as a summer vacation, set a deadline by which one parent needs to notify the other of his or her plans (e.g. May 1, Memorial Day, 60 days in advance, etc).  The holidays often come with some stress, but dealing with the holiday schedule ahead of time can help make the holidays more peaceful and enjoyable for you and your children.  

Contact Stiles Ewing Powers to speak to an attorney about how to plan your child’s holiday and summer custody schedule today.