Navigating Child Custody During the Holidays

Navigating Child Custody During the Holidays

These days, you will likely find Halloween costumes in your local stores. Maybe there will even be Thanksgiving decor. What does this mean? The holidays are upon us. 

If you have gone through a divorce and have minor children, it is time to start making travel plans for the holiday season. Depending on your child’s school schedule, you are looking at an extended weekend for Thanksgiving and perhaps two or three weeks off for Christmas. 

You will want to start planning your holiday schedule now so your kids (and the other parent) know what they will be doing. Unlike the past few years, planning will be key for the end of 2022. The holidays will be back to “normal” this year for the first time since 2020. This will most likely be the busiest travel season of the year as COVID restrictions lift and gas prices decrease.

However, after a divorce, holiday plans can change. You may be used to doing things as a family, but now is the time for each parent to create their own traditions. This may mean doing different activities on different days. 

But does the other parent agree with your plans? Will there be a conflict if you take the kids out of town on Christmas Eve? How you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas this year will depend on how well you communicate with the other parent as well as whether or not you need permission from the courts. So before you book those hotels and plane tickets, make sure you are handling custody matters legally. Here are some things you should keep in mind when planning what to do during the holidays this year.

Discuss Plans With Your Co-Parent

Your settlement agreement should have details about where the kids will go during the holidays, who will have them, and for how long. If you have ideas about what you want to do with the kids, create an itinerary and run it by the other parent. The itinerary should be highly detailed and include information such as when you are leaving and returning, where you will be going, where you will be staying, who is going with you, and the mode of transportation. You should also leave contact information so that you can be easily accessed if the other parent wants to check in.  

Make sure it is OK with the other parent before leaving for your trip. There may be concerns, so you never want to assume anything. If you agree to a plan, things will be less stressful for you and the kids.

Give Advance Notice

Start making holiday plans now — not in November, not the day before Christmas. Give as much notice as possible. This will make the other parent more likely to approve your request to change custody, if desired. If you wait until the last minute, there is likely to be resentment, and the other parent will be more likely to deny the request, especially if it does not meet the guidelines outlined in the parenting plan or custody agreement. 

Check the Terms of Your Agreement Before Making Changes

You may want to make some changes to the custody agreement. While agreements generally allow for some flexibility, you want to make sure. Before you and your co-parent change the rules of the agreement, make sure you are allowed to do so without court permission. Some agreements may require that you both consent to changes via text or email. Some requirements are more extreme, such as signed or notarized documents. Make sure to read the fine print and follow the directions so the other parent does not pull a fast one on you. If you have any concerns, ask your lawyer about how to proceed. 

Split Time Fairly

When it comes to child custody arrangements during the holidays, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In most divorce settlements, the holidays’ are alternated or divided by the parents. But if you desire greater flexibility, ask for it. Just make sure you are fair with the other parent as well. You can alternate holidays like Halloween or split up Christmas break, which tends to be much longer. Just be supportive and allow for your children to have a good relationship with the other parent. This is critical for the mental health of all involved. 

Put it in Writing

Whatever you decide, put it in writing. Be sure to send the co-parent the specifics of your holiday plans in writing. Not only that, but also be sure they confirm their acceptance of the plan. You will need this evidence in case the co-parent tries to claim something else and throw you under the bus. It may be helpful to work with an attorney to make sure you have proper documentation.

Avoid Conflict

The best thing you can do during the holidays is to avoid conflict. Your kids do not want to spend their Thanksgiving and Christmas stressed out because their parents are fighting over them. Do not use your children as pawns, and refrain from badmouthing the other parent in front of them. Do whatever you can to put your child’s needs before your own. 

Seek Legal Help

You may want to start your holiday travel planning now, but be sure to look at your custody agreement and communicate with the other parent. This will help make your holidays less stressful.

Broward County divorce attorney Scott J. Stadler can help you understand all the elements of your divorce, including child custody. To schedule a consultation, fill out the online form or call (954) 398-5712.