Handling Holiday Custody Issues

Posted on: 11 December 2014

The holiday season can bring an extra share of stress to divorced parents when there are conflicts over the children's custody and visitation schedule. There are some simple, but important, things that you should do in order to protect your interests in the matter.

Know What Your Custody Orders Say

Review all custody orders, every year, before you make your holiday plans, because the finer details of visitation schedules can become fuzzy over the course of a year. That way, you keep familiar with your legal entitlements. You don't want to plan a trip to Grandma's house with your children only to realize that your ex-spouse has custody at that time.

Keep in mind a couple of factors if you are trying to plan a holiday visit somewhere:

  • Your custody orders may prevent you from taking your child out of the local area without the other parent's permission, even to visit relatives on Christmas.
  • If you can't come to an agreement with your ex-spouse, you want to make sure that you have plenty of time to file a petition with the court seeking permission to go on any trips or visits.
  • Family courts get glutted with issues pertaining to holiday visitation schedules every year. The sooner you address any potential problems with your ex, the more likely that you'll be able to get a hearing prior to the actual holiday.
  • State laws vary, so make sure that you have documentation showing that you have your ex's (or the court's) permission to be traveling with your child if you go out of state.
  • Taking your child outside the area, and especially the state, without the permission of your ex, or the court, can negatively affect your future custody rights.

Get Everything In Writing

There's really no such thing as too much documentation where visitation and custody issues are concerned.

If you're trying to negotiate a little extra time during the holidays so that your children can be available when their grandparents come into town, and your ex-spouse is being difficult or unreasonable, you want to have a record that reflects what happened, should you end up in court over it.

If your ex does agree to let you have extra visitation time, make sure that you put it in writing so that you can avoid any misunderstandings. Be careful to note any trade that you've offered, such as a willingness to let your ex have the children during spring break in exchange for giving you time on Christmas eve.

When you're creating a paper trail regarding visitation issues, know the following:

  • Email is perfect for cultivating a record of your negotiations.
  • If you've made a verbal request regarding holiday visitation, follow the conversation up with a short note via email. Document what was said by writing something like, "Per our conversation earlier today," and then recap what was discussed and any agreement you reached.
  • If you agreed to a trade-off, be very specific when you mention it. Write something like "in exchange, you can have the kids for the Monday and Tuesday following Easter" instead of "you can have the kids for 2 extra days around Easter." Leave no room for confusion.
  • If you were unable to reach an agreement, recap the conversation and then try making the request again. Ask your ex-spouse to please reconsider his or her original answer and to respond to your email.
  • Take copies of your emails or other communication with you to your attorney's office if you decide to get help. Ask your attorney to contact your ex-spouse's attorney regarding the issue, before heading directly into court.

Ultimately, the goal is to reach an agreement with your ex-spouse without involving attorneys or the court. Clear communication and a little flexibility will often make that possible.

When it isn't, you want to make sure that you can demonstrate to the court any unreasonable behavior on the part of your ex-spouse. Even if you aren't able to achieve a favorable order from the court this holiday season, that kind of documentation can have a tremendous impact on future custody issues. Have a trusted lawyer, such as Stephen J Weisbrod Esq Law, on your side.