Custody Schedules During the HolidaysSeptember 27, 2018
As some of the major holidays are approaching, now is an excellent time to locate and dust off your custody order and read through it, especially those paragraphs that discuss Trick-or-Treat, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and/or New Years. If the parties entered into an agreement, the holiday provisions probably are second-nature since the parties negotiated the terms of the custody order. However, if the parties litigated and someone else decided how the child(ren) would spend the holidays, the paragraphs addressing Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s may not make sense.
Some custody orders may require the parties to share Trick-or-Treat or cooperate in scheduling Trick-or-Treat. This is where the courts and family law practitioners nostalgically hope the parties are able to co-parent swimmingly or the parties live in different townships wherein Trick-or-Treat occurs on separate evenings.
The custody order may split up Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day into two, 24-hour consecutive periods. For example, the order may dictate that Mother shall exercise physical custody of the child(ren) in even-numbered years from the day before Thanksgiving at 2:00 p.m. until Thanksgiving Day at 2:00 p.m. (Segment A), and Father shall exercise physical custody of the child(ren) from Thanksgiving Day at 2:00 p.m. until Black Friday at 2:00 p.m. (Segment B). After that, the regular custody schedule shall commence. In odd-numbered years, Father shall exercise physical custody of the child(ren) during Segment A and Mother shall exercise physical custody of the child(ren) during Segment B.
Some custody orders divide the winter break and the holiday, so parties are not only forced to become familiar with the actual holiday schedule but also the time period in which the child(ren) are out of school. For example, Father may exercise physical custody during Segment A at Christmas in even-numbered years and also exercise physical custody during the last half of the winter break once the entire break is divided evenly, while Mother may exercise physical custody during Segment B at Christmas in even-numbered years and also exercise physical custody during the first half of the winter recess. This can, understandably, be very confusing and frustrating, and requires a meticulous review of the custody order.
Once the party knows what time period the order provides to them, plans with the extended family and friends can be formalized. All orders include a provision that parties are encouraged to cooperate and modify the terms of the order, particularly for family events, in the best interest of the child(ren). If you would prefer to change the holiday schedule, first reach out to the other party, in writing, to respectfully request if they will consider a revised schedule. Be willing to reach out early on and remain open-minded to finalize holiday plans that accommodate the best interest of the child(ren). If this cannot be accomplished, consider communicating with your family law attorney with sufficient notice to alter the provision of the custody order for that year. Planning ahead is crucial. The likelihood of the other party being willing to alter holiday plans on the eve of the holiday is slim.
Karen is a collaboratively trained professional with 13 years of experience. She serves as the Secretary of the Collaborative Professionals of Central Pennsylvania. She is also an active member in the Family Law Section of the Pennsylvania, and Dauphin County, Bar Association and Collaborative Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.