Kids often look forward to holidays and school breaks as a chance to go on vacation, spend more time with friends, and get away from school for a little while. However, for parents sharing custody, these times may be a challenge when having to put the child on a plane to the other parent, cut short vacation plans, or otherwise accommodate a change in schedule.
The child custody and visitation agreement should provide for the visitation schedule for each parent. This generally includes consideration of custody and visitation during changes in the regular schedule, including:
- Vacation Time
- School Breaks
The parents generally make this determination before the child custody orders are signed by the court so the parents will not have to keep coming back to the court whenever they want a change in the visitation schedule. However, when the parents cannot agree on custody during a holiday, they may have to go to court for a modification or to enforce the agreement.
Plan for Holidays and School Breaks
When making a child visitation schedule, parents should account for all holidays, special dates, and school breaks that may involve a change in the standard day-to-day or week-to-week schedule. In addition to more major holidays celebrated in the U.S. like Thanksgiving and Christmas, planned schedules should include:
- Child's birthday,
- Religious holidays,
- School in-service or teacher prep days,
- Parents' birthdays,
- 3-day weekends,
- Spring break,
- Winter break,
- Summer break,
- School days off, and
- Parents' workdays off.
Options for Sharing Custody and Visitation During Holidays
There are a number of practical options parents can choose when considering time during holidays and vacations that do not require having to take the matter to court. The court may be hesitant to take up the issue when there is already a custody and visitation order in place and instead send the matter to mediation for the parents to come up with their own solution.
The most straightforward (and one of the most common) options for holiday time is to alternate every year. For example, the child can spend Thanksgiving with Parent A and Christmas with Parent B. Next year, the parents can swap the holidays. This way, the parents can both spend important holidays with their children every other year.
Sharing longer vacations and holidays can work by splitting up the time between parents. For example, if the child is out of school for Winter Break from December 19th to January 2nd, the child can stay with one parent for the first week and the other parent during the second week.
If certain holidays are especially important for the parents, they can even split the day, like Christmas morning with one parent and Christmas dinner with the other.
Going Off the Calendar for Holidays
Depending on the holiday, events can be celebrated on any day of the year. Especially with younger children, they may not care if they celebrate on a specific date. One parent can celebrate Easter on the Saturday before Easter and the other parent can celebrate on Easter Sunday. There is no reason the parents cannot even make up their own holidays to celebrate, like a half-birthday or Christmas in July.
Some parents may want to spend specific holidays with the child, especially if that holiday is important for the parent or the parent's side of the family, or for the parent's religious beliefs. If the parents can agree to designate certain holidays, they can assign fixed holidays to one parent.
Alternating School Year Plan
Another option for parents with a child in school is to alternate the custody and visitation plan that they have during the school year. For example, if Parent A gets visitation of the child every weekend during the school year, the parents could switch that schedule so that the child stays with Parent A during the week and Parent B gets weekend visits.
Out of Town Vacations
Taking a vacation out-of-town with your child can also require making changes to the regular parenting schedule. If parents alternate weeks or weekends, it can limit any travel unless the parents agree to modify the visitation. The most popular times for taking vacations out of the area are during longer breaks like summer break or winter break.
Equal Vacation Time
The simplest way to provide for a longer trip is to give each parent an equal or equivalent amount of extended time. For example, if one parent wants to take the child to Florida for a 10-day trip, the other parent should be able to get a minimum 10-day period to spend with the child.
Modifying the Parenting Schedule
When the parents cannot come to an agreement on changes to the schedule for holidays, vacations, or breaks, the parent may need to file a child custody modification petition with the court. The court may first send the issue to mediation to have the parents work it out. If mediation is not successful, the parents may have to attend a hearing where the court will make a decision on the proposed modifications. Generally, the outcome is better for the parents and the child when they can come to an agreement without having the court make the ultimate decision.
Holiday and Break Modifications as the Child Gets Older
As the child gets older, the parents may consider changes to the holiday and school break schedules. Older kids may want to spend more time with friends during breaks or holidays. Interests like sports, performing arts, or learning programs may mean the child wants to attend a camp, do an exchange program, or attend a summer program during their breaks.
The child's interest in other activities generally results in spending more time with the primary custodial parent. The parents should come to an agreement to accommodate the child's growing interests and activities while balancing time spent with each parent.
Experienced Shelby Child Custody Attorneys
Parents in a dispute over child custody during the holidays can benefit from the experienced legal advice that the skilled attorneys at Caulder & Valentine have to offer. Contact us today for a consultation.