Disagreements regarding holiday visitations frequently occur between separated parents. This is especially true during the period that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas/Winter Break, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Some court orders are not clear enough and are interpreted differently by each parent. In other cases, custody orders may be pending and undecided upon. If no litigation has ever commenced then not only are there no orders in place to resolve who has custody during these holidays but there are not even orders in the pipeline and it may be appropriate to commence an action. In all of these scenarios, it is best to address these issues in advance of the holidays.
First, see if you and the other parent can come to an agreement amongst yourselves. If an agreement is reached it should be specific and memorialized in a stipulation which is filed with the court. That way you’ll have an enforceable court order. Many individuals come to my office saying there was an agreement in place and at the last minute the other parent informed they have reneged; they cannot do this if a court order is in place. The stipulation should include specific language regarding the time and place for the exchange, exchange of itineraries, contact information and where the child(ren) will be, to name a few. A family law attorney can help you draft a stipulation. If you cannot agree and foresee the need for a judge to make orders, keep in mind it can take 45 days or more to get a court date set. Therefore, plan in advance.
Talk to your child custody attorney before the holiday season so you can plan your holiday schedule and any travel plans in advance if possible.
If you were unable to plan in advance and the holiday is fast approaching, you may still resolve the problem. Your lawyer may negotiate a visitation schedule for you and obtain an agreement. Another option would be to request ex parte, emergency relief – such as an order shortening time—to expedite a hearing or to obtain emergency orders when appropriate.
The holidays are special for all families. A good family law attorney may help ensure that you obtain an agreement or court order you are comfortable with.
The principles set forth here would also apply to any major holiday—Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, Easter, Spring Break, Chanukah, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, etc.
Lance Claery, Partner
Claery & Hammond, LLP