The holiday season is all about coming together as a family. This is supposed to be the happiest, most stress-free time of the year, right? This is quite the opposite for divorced or separated families. Divorced or separated parents must deal with the stressor, every year, of “who gets the children for the holidays?”
It is vital for children to experience the holidays with both parents and to develop holiday traditions with each parent. Despite any conflict that may exist between the parents, the children likely want to experience the holidays with both parents. This, of course, requires the help of both parents.
Each parent, regardless of any conflict, should participate in holiday activities, such as choosing gifts, etc.
Basics of the ‘Parenting Plan’
Essentially, parents who separate, or are divorced, should have a plan for deciding how their children will be cared for and where they will live or spend time during the holidays. Initially, these parents should review their child custody agreement – known in California as a parenting plan.
A parenting plan, also called a “custody and visitation agreement,” is the parents’ written agreement in regards to: (i) amount of time each parent has with the child; and (ii) decision making. With this written plan, each parent and child will know what to expect and will have fewer conflicts with sharing parenting time.
This plan may specifically address holiday visitation schedules and in all likelihood can create a routine. Most children benefit from having a routine they can count on.
Ultimately, when it comes down to deciding visitation during the holidays, if your parenting plan includes an agreement about child custody and visitation during the holidays, this is a great starting point for the conversation. This is true even if you and your ex decide that you want to make changes to the schedule.
As long as both parents agree, California law typically allows parents to negotiate changes to their holiday parenting schedules without going through a formal process provided the parties write the specific terms of agreement into a document and date and sign the same.
Of course, it is always best to have a family law attorney review the document modifying the visitation.
Getting the Court Involved
Although California law normally allows parents to negotiate changes to their holiday parenting schedules without going through the formal process, in some cases the judge must get involved before parents make changes to their parenting plan. Basically, this occurs when the judge makes the custody and visitation order and one or both parents desire to change the order.
If the parents cannot agree on certain changes, at least one of the parents must file papers with the Court requesting a change (or “Modification”) of their child custody and visitation order. Typically, the parents will then meet with a Court-appointed mediator to discuss why they want the order to change. Then they will attend a formal court hearing.
In asking for a change of the custody and visitation, the parent must illustrate there has been a change in circumstances since the final custody order was made. Fundamentally, this means there has been a significant change that requires a new custody and visitation arrangement for the best interest of the children.
A significant change is required because children should have stable and consistent custody arrangements with their parents. Again, a final custody order may be modified if it is in the best interest of the child.
Selecting the Right Attorney is Key
If you are involved in a dispute over visitation during the holidays, you should get an experienced family law attorney involved to help settle the disagreement. JWB Family Law can provide this help.
JWB Family Law represents clients involved in custody disputes in which parents cannot agree on a visitation schedule that is in the best interests of the child. They can assist you to fight for visitation changes. The goal is an arrangement that meets your needs and those of your children.