Disputes between parents over where and with whom their children spend the holidays can be highly emotional, complex, and stressful to both parents and children. The visceral feelings associated with the holidays, the pressures on parents to provide the ‘perfect’ holiday for their children, and the incredible time constraints faced by all concerned parties combine to make resolving these problems more difficult than usual. Some of these issues will inevitably require Court intervention because the parents either will not or cannot come to an agreement by themselves.
If you find yourself in the position of having to go to Court to resolve an issue regarding child holiday visitation, following these five suggestions should help get you through your ordeal with the least amount of trouble and the best chance of success:
1. Have multiple copies of the current visitation order or schedule.
Courts, attorneys, and Law Guardians dealing with holiday visitation problems will instinctively ask for the schedule or order that is in effect. This is the baseline from which all decisions will be made concerning your issue.
2. Ask for what you want in clear and concise language.
Example: I want to take my son to see his grandparents in Florida for Christmas. The Court generally does not need to know the entire history of your relationship with the other parent.
3. Tell the Court why it should rule in your favor: If your order or schedule gives you the right to the relief you are seeking, tell the Court the specific page or paragraph numbers which support your position. If it does not, you need to tell the Court why it is fair or right to alter the schedule in this one instance.
4. Be Reasonable.
If you ask the Court to alter the agreed upon schedule and therefore deprive the other parent of time which they are otherwise entitled to, offer to make some concession to them on another visitation issue or provide some additional time to them in the future. If you are asking the Court to enforce the agreed upon order or schedule, and if doing so would cause the other parent some harm or problem, propose a realistic plan to make that problem as manageable as possible. A judge is much more likely to be sympathetic to a party who is attempting to be reasonable and accommodating than it is to someone it perceives to be overly rigid and doctrinaire.
5. Provide Advance Notice.
One of the biggest challenges to handling holiday visitation issues is the lack of advance notice and planning by parents. Some of this is the unavoidable result of the conduct of one of the parents, such as refusing at the very last minute to send or receive a child or to honor a agreed to change in the schedule. But, if you know there is going to be a problem which needs to be resolved (your holiday time conflicts with the other parents regular time or your plans require the other parents consent to take the child out of the state), it is important to deal with the matter well in advance of the planned visitation. Asking a Court to deal with a problem on the eve of a holiday visitation not only greatly increases the stress on you, your attorneys, and the Court, but it also increases the likelihood that the Court will not have enough time to thoroughly consider your request and enter any appropriate orders or directives.