Perhaps the toughest part about negotiating a visitation schedule is factoring in the holidays. In this blog, we will review the basic elements of a visitation order, holidays to keep in mind when negotiating the schedule, and common methods for dividing the holidays.
Basics of Visitation Orders
It is advisable for parents to have very detailed visitation plans to prevent conflicts and confusion. As a result, visitation schedules should pay particular attention to detailing the dates and times that the children will be with each parent, especially regarding vacations, holidays, and special occasions (birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day).
Recall that in most custody cases, parents make their own agreements for visitation without a court order. If you settle on an agreement between the two of you, the terms of the agreement become binding and enforceable. If one of you does not follow the agreement, though, you can turn in your agreement to a judge, who will either send you to mediation or decide the custody and visitation schedule for you both and make it an enforceable court order. In some cases, the judge may appoint a child custody evaluator to do a custody evaluation and recommend a parenting plan. Note that a parent will likely have to pay for the evaluation.
If parents want to change or modify the order, they will have to return to court. The judge will approve a new custody and visitation order that both parents agree to. Keep in mind that modifying a custody order is not easily granted, and parent(s) will need to prove to the judge that there is a significant change in circumstances impacting the child’s best interests to change the existing order. Both parents will most likely have to meet with a mediator to discuss the reasons for changes before going to court.
Holiday Visitation Schedules
Common Holidays to Include
As you draft your first or modified visitation schedule, keep in mind some common holidays to include in your holiday schedule:
- New Year's Day (Jan. 1st)
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day (3rd Monday of Jan.)
- Presidents' Day (3rd Monday of Feb.)
- Spring Break (school schedule)
- Mother's Day (2nd Sunday of May)
- Memorial Day (last Monday of May)
- Father's Day (2nd Sunday of June)
- Fourth of July
- Labor Day (1st Monday of Sept.)
- Halloween (Oct 31st)
- Veterans Day (Nov 11th)
- Thanksgiving (4th Thursday of Nov.)
- Christmas Eve (Dec. 24th)
- Christmas Day (Dec. 25th)
- Winter Break (school schedule)
- New Year's Eve (Dec. 31st)
- The child's birthday
Some parents may also choose to mark down religious holidays, state holidays, days off from school (e.g. Furlough Days), each parent’s birthday, and other special occasions. Note that holidays trump regular visitation days, so if a parent usually has parenting time on Mondays but one of the Mondays is the other parent’s birthday, the other parent will have the day with the child.
For long breaks like Spring Break and Christmas Break, separated parents who live across the country from each other need to make a custody agreement that meets both of the parents wants but also addresses the children’s wellbeing. Travel is expensive, and children could get anxiety and sadness when they are being sent from parent to parent, coast to coast.
One way to schedule around holidays is for parents to alternate holidays every other year like a holiday rotation. For instance, parents can assign holidays to each other for even years and then swap those same holidays in odd years (e.g. the father can get custody for Christmas in even years and the mother on odd years). It is most common to divide 3-day weekends either by alternating the weekends, splitting them, or simply giving the Monday holiday to the parent who has the weekend.
Parents can also elect to split the holiday in half so that your child spends part of the day with each parent. This arrangement works best for parents who do not live too far away from each other and requires communicative planning and coordination, as you don't want your child to travel all day during the holidays. One common way to split Christmas is to divide time with the children between Christmas and Christmas Eve. For example:
- One parent has Thanksgiving Day and the other has the weekend
- One parent has Christmas Day, one has Christmas Eve
- One parent has Christmas, and the other has New Year’s
In any case, parents can still schedule time to celebrate a holiday with their child on another day. For example, one parent can celebrate Christmas with the child on Dec. 21st and the other parent on the actual day.
Some visitation schedules will assign fixed holidays, where each parent celebrates the same holidays with the child every year. This can work if parents have different holidays that they think are important.
In the case of the child's birthday, parents can divide time on the day by:
- scheduling a short visit for the parent who doesn't have the child on the birthday,
- give both parents birthday time in the schedule, or
- alternate having the birthday every year.
Questions? Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP
If you have questions about modifying or clarifying a custody order regarding holidays, seek experience legal guidance immediately. Visitation schedules can be nuanced, and they are tough to change once in place. Our lawyers at Claery & Hammond, LLP can provide you the legal support you need in your visitation negotiations; contact the firm today for more information.
Schedule your free consultation with Claery & Hammond, LLP today!