The winter holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, but they are also a top contender for the most stressful time of the year for divorced and separated persons. Regardless of family structure, holiday gatherings and visits can be contentious. Under the stress of cleaning and cooking and visiting in-laws, even close-knit nuclear families, amicably divorced co-parents, or happily mixed step-families might experience some tension and conflict around this time of the year.
Given the stress of preparing for holidays, and the emotions invested in family celebrations, it is more important than ever for there to be good channels of communication about scheduling. When child custody agreements are involved, communication is even more important, especially if custody arrangements or their enforcement have been contentious issues in the past.
Many shared custody agreements drawn up as part of the divorce settlements will specify holiday visitation and custody rights for each parent. For example, one parent may have the children for Thanksgiving and New Year’s, with the other parent having Christmas and the surrounding days. In the next year, the parents might swap time periods, following an alternating schedule laid out in the custody agreement.
Changes happen, however. A flight back from a visit to grandma might be delayed by snow. A family wedding might be scheduled for the days after Christmas. A teenager with a mind of her own might want to go to a friend’s cookie-decorating party close to mom’s house an hour away, even though dad has custody for that date. What’s to be done?
If ex-spouses have a cooperative relationship as co-parents, these slight changes to the schedule might be handled between the two as an oral agreement. However, it is never a bad idea to get a one-time change to holiday custody arrangements in writing. Getting any changes in writing is especially important when respect for the custody agreement (such as timely drop-off of children at the other parent’s residence, frequent requests to “swap” custodial weekends, and the like) has been an issue in the past.
If you find that your ex-spouse frequently wants to make exceptions to the custody agreement, it may be time to get legal counsel involved. In a worst-case scenario, you might have to bring legal force to your requests that the custody agreement be respected. On the other hand, however, both parties might amicably agree it is time to update the custody agreement to better reflect your family’s changed needs.
Our experienced family law partners can help you sort out issues of holiday custody. Call today to discuss how to guarantee happier holidays for your family.