Visitation and the Holidays
The holiday season can be tough for families that no longer live under the same roof, or never did. Many conflicts tend to arise regarding holiday visitation schedules. While each family has its own traditions, a fair schedule should do its best to honor these as well as be fair to each parent and their children.
When one parent has primary or physical custody of the children, it is common that the other parent will have liberal visitation rights. This is generally a regular schedule each week, but there are a few changes for such things as holidays, vacations, and birthdays. When it comes to a holiday visitation schedule, this is never something that should be left to the last minute or up to chance, since it is in the best interests of all parties to minimize conflicts.
What Does Your Court Order or Parenting Agreement Say?
When you go through a divorce or make a custody arrangement official through the courts, one of the things that is often negotiated in advance is a holiday visitation schedule. This gives you an opportunity to put together a baseline schedule that divides the time that each parent will spend with the children during major holidays.
For example, you might rotate who has the children for the entire holiday break every other year or split up the week evenly. Some custody holiday visitation schedules are incredibly specific. For example, the visitation schedule for Christmas might say:
- Christmas Eve (10:00 a.m. on 12/24 through 11:00 a.m. on 12/25) – Children with the Mother on even-numbered years and with the Father on odd-numbered years.
- Christmas Day (11:00 a.m. on 12/25 through 5:00 p.m. on 12/26) – Children with the Mother on odd-numbered years and with the Father on even-numbered years.
Allowing for Case by Case Exceptions
You might have a legal agreement that serves as a baseline to prevent conflicts, but what if you want to change something? Maybe one parent has family coming to town and would like to request that their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day visitation be switched. Or the other parent might have a trip planned with the children and wants to leave on the day that they are scheduled elsewhere.
Whatever the reason, see if you can compromise and make a change that is fair to everyone. If you ask the other parent to give up, or switch, one day to accommodate your schedule, offer to extend the children’s visitation with them later to make up for that time. While you don’t need to always agree to your ex’s requests, remaining flexible can give you additional leverage in court if there are legal issues that you need to resolve in the future.
“No” is Always an Acceptable Answer
It’s essential to remember that the visitation schedule outlined in your parenting agreement or court order supersedes any special requests by either parent. If you or your ex are adamant about keeping to the stated schedule, not much can be done about this. The best you can do is calmly explain your desire for a change, or consider the wishes of your ex, and try to come to an agreement that is fair for all parties.
In the end, a “no” answer from either of you is acceptable, and your next move should be to make the most of the time that you have with your children. Just remember, though, if you are the one saying “no” to a request, there’s a good chance that you will have circumstances that require a schedule change in the future. Being flexible now could pay off later.
Avoid Involving Children in the Negotiations
Even though these schedules and court orders are about who gets to spend time with the children and when, those same children should generally not be part of the negotiations. This means that a parent shouldn’t discuss their wishes for a schedule change with their children or voice displeasure about the other parent’s decision. Children should not have to decide which parent they would prefer to spend time with or be involved in parental conflicts.
Speak with a Knowledgeable Family Law Attorney
The holidays should be a time to celebrate with family and let your children know how much they are cherished. The hope is that parents will be able to work out their differences with as little conflict as possible. If you have questions about any family law issues in Virginia, including custody and visitation, give us a call.
The experienced family law attorneys at Buck, Toscano, & Tereskerz in Charlottesville represent families throughout Central Virginia. Reach us at (434) 977-7977 to schedule your initial consultation.