The holidays are difficult for any family. They can present unique challenges for parents who are separated or divorced. It is important to think ahead about how each holiday will affect your custody and/or visitation schedule, and plan accordingly. This can help prevent serious arguments and problems during an already stressful season.
Before we begin, it is important to note that any current custody or parenting plan must be honored. Do not expect to make a one-time exception to an existing order without a written agreement from your spouse, at the very least. If you are considering a long-term or permanent change, you should pursue a modification to make sure it is clear and legally binding. Changing a custody arrangement without the express consent of your spouse can have serious consequences.
Tips for Creating a Workable Holiday Parenting Plan
No two families are the same, and when the holidays approach, it’s helpful to take everything into account. Should you alternate holidays? Is there a holiday you celebrate but your spouse routinely does not? Look at it from every angle and think about what will cause the least disruption and stress for your child or children. If your case goes to court, remember that the judge will make a ruling based on the best interests of the child.
At any stage of a divorce or custody proceeding, you can consider and apply the following tips to help reach or modify an agreement that works for you and your children:
- Plan ahead. Don’t wait until a few days before Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve to decide where your child will spend the holiday. Talk to your spouse early on and try to work out a plan that makes sense. The best idea is to decide on holidays at the beginning of the year, put it in writing, and follow the plan.
- Take school and work schedules into consideration. Whether your child attends private or public school, note their holiday schedule and what days (or weeks) they have off. Compare this to your work schedule and what paid holidays and vacation time you have remaining. Coordinating work and school schedules can help you make the most of your time together over the holidays.
- Be consistent. Try to think of how you want each holiday to be shared. Will you alternate holidays or try to split the day in half? Will you simply celebrate twice? Decide on a strategy and stick to it—but be prepared to have a curveball or two thrown your way.
- Try to stay calm and consider the other side. Of course, you want to spend every holiday with your child, but try to remain calm and think about how your spouse may be feeling. Think about your child’s feelings as well, and try to make decisions that make it less stressful for everyone. Compromise on a holiday that’s less important to you or be prepared to “take turns” for the most important ones. Remember, you’re in it together.
- Don’t forget about travel arrangements. When parents live close to one another, this is not usually an issue. If you live in different cities, counties, or states, however, you will need to think about travel arrangements. Figure out the finances and time involved so there are no unpleasant surprises as the holidays approach.
- Address special requests. Instead of immediately refusing a special request, like a holiday trip to another state, consider whether there is an accommodation or request of your own that you would like fulfilled. You might find it worthwhile to give up one holiday for a different one.
Resolving Holiday Custody Conflicts
Even when you plan ahead, you may run into trouble reaching a workable holiday custody arrangement. If you are dealing with a conflict involving holiday custody, visitation, or travel, you can take a few steps to make sure your interests and rights are protected.
First, parents should be aware of Massachusetts laws governing child custody and visitation, which prioritize the child's best interests. This knowledge is crucial, especially regarding legal requirements for out-of-state or international travel.
Second, clear, respectful communication is essential in discussing holiday plans. Parents should aim for mutual understanding and finding common ground. Willingness to compromise can help resolve disputes, such as alternating holidays or dividing holiday time.
In unresolved cases, a court may need to make decisions based on the child's best interests, particularly concerning holiday custody and travel arrangements. When court intervention or involvement is necessary—or at the first sign that an amicable approach is failing—talk to an attorney.
When you have the goal of reaching a peaceful, workable holiday custody arrangement, you can help ensure you and your children have a less stressful holiday season.
Talk to a Massachusetts Custody Lawyer
If you have questions or considerations about scheduling time with your child over the holidays, it is important to review your existing custody agreement. Some custody agreements include provisions about the holidays and may address issues like alternating major holidays or traveling. If this is not clearly defined in your custody agreement, make sure you talk to your lawyer about your intentions and keep any agreement reached for this year in writing. Custody and visitation, even in special circumstances such as the holiday season, are legally enforceable.
In our experience as Massachusetts child custody lawyers, these are the cases that generate the most stress and concern for our clients. At Miller Law Group, P.C., we are here to protect your interests and help you reach holiday parenting plans that work for you and your family. With our extensive experience in family law, you can rest assured that we can offer insight that will set you up for success.
To learn more, call (508) 502-7002 or contact us online. We look forward to making your 2023 holiday season a little brighter.