Holiday Visitation Custody
Holiday and summer schedules can often be a source of conflict between divorcing parties. The following are some common issues that can arise in crafting custody and visitation agreements, and potential solutions for them.
1. Thanksgiving and the issue of three weekends in a row
Where parties have a regular schedule that involves alternating weekends and the custody schedule provides that Thanksgiving encompasses both the holiday and the weekend immediately following it, one party or the other can end up having three weekends in a row with the children. This happens if Parent A’s Thanksgiving falls on Parent B’s weekend. Sometimes parents are fine with this. However if they are not, this issue can be solved in several ways. One way is to make Thanksgiving encompass only the Wednesday through Friday of the holiday and not the weekend. This solves the problem of three weekends in a row, but this may not be desirable when one or both parents customarily travel over the holiday and want the entire weekend to do so. Another option is to “reset” the schedule if it were to result in one parent having three weekends in a row, such that the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving weekend would “reset,” or switch to the parent who did not have the children over Thanksgiving weekend and the weekend immediately prior to it.
2. Kids’ Birthdays – what to do?
Sometimes a parent will want language in an agreement obligating both parents to share time with the children on their actual birthdays or celebrate the birthdays together. In my experience, this usually doesn’t work all that well. If parents are getting along well enough to have a joint birthday party for the children, they don’t need an agreement to force them to do it. If parents do not have such an amicable relationship, forcing a joint birthday party or negotiating a split of time on the actual day may well result in a tense and unpleasant atmosphere. I tend to advise people not to provide anything in agreements regarding children’s birthdays, as typically birthdays are celebrated on a weekend regardless of when the child’s birthday actually falls. If parents aren’t on terms that allow them to have a joint birthday party, each parent can have an individual celebration for the child on his or her time. Dr. Ed Farber suggests this in his excellent book – “Raising the Kid You Love with the Ex You Hate.” While two separate birthday parties may not be entirely optimal, this should not be a major issue.
3. Federal Monday Holidays
Sometimes parents want to evenly divide Federal Monday holidays (i.e. MLK day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day). Unless there is a major reason for this, I typically suggest that children spend Federal Monday holidays with the parent with whom they spent the adjacent weekend. This facilitates out-of-town travel and activities that may run from the weekend into the holiday.
Commonly during summers parents will each have some uninterrupted weeks with the children. Depending on the level of cooperation between the parents, agreements may need to make provisions for how those weeks will be determined. In situations where parents are likely to disagree on weeks, we can build in several methods of resolving any disputes. The most common way I see is to state that in odd-numbered years (2015, 2017, etc.) one parent’s chosen weeks take precedence, and in even-numbered years the other parent’s take precedence. Another possibility is to require that a parent’s week start and end on a particular day that encompasses his or her already-scheduled weekend. The upside to this approach is that it is impossible for the parents to schedule weeks that conflict with each other. The downside is that a major event (wedding, family reunion) may fall outside of these potential weeks. When do parents have to give notice of their chosen weeks? I typically advise that this happen as early as reasonably possible in the year due to the fact that choice summer camps often fill up early. Another issue that sometimes arises is: what happens when a parent delays in getting his or her chosen weeks to the other? Does he/she still get her weeks? What if that parent also selects weeks but rejects them at the last minute, causing the other parent to have to scramble to find care? There is nothing that can guarantee with 100% effectiveness that such things do not occur, however in cases where such events are likely to occur, I have built language into agreements dealing with this. For example, language such that if someone does not select their weeks in a timely fashion their right to those weeks is forfeited. Or if someone’s failure to adhere to the schedule causes economic damage to the other side, language such that a party is required to pay to make the other whole.
5. Example of a Holiday/Summer Schedule
While holiday/summer schedules can be adjusted in virtually any way, sometimes people want to begin with a generic template to give them an idea of how to start. The following is a common schedule that can be modified, and can at least give a basic idea of how such schedules can look:
a. Holiday Visitation
Holiday visitation shall be as set forth below. To the extent that the holiday visitation set forth below conflicts with the regular weekly custodial schedule, the holiday visitation shall supersede, but shall not replace it.
- Spring Break
The parties shall alternate the children’s school Spring Break each year, defined as 5:00 p.m. on the Sunday after school releases until 5:00 p.m. the Friday before school reconvenes. Father shall have Spring Break in even-numbered years. Mother shall have Spring Break in odd-numbered years.
Thanksgiving shall be defined as the time school lets out on the last day of school before the Thanksgiving holiday until 5:00 p.m. on the Friday immediately following the holiday. Mother shall have the children for Thanksgiving in odd-numbered years. Father shall have the children for Thanksgiving in even-numbered years.
- Winter Break
The children’s winter break from school shall be divided in half. In odd-numbered years, Mother shall have the children for the first half of the winter break, and Father shall have children for the second part of the winter break. In even-numbered years, Father shall have the children for the first part of the winter break, and Mother shall have the children for the second part of the winter break.
- Fourth of July
The parties shall alternate the Fourth of July holiday each year, defined as 10:00 a.m. on the holiday until 10:00 a.m. the next morning. Mother shall have Fourth of July in odd-numbered years. Father shall have Fourth of July in even-numbered years.
- Father’s Day
In all years, Father shall have the children from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Father’s Day.
- Mother’s Day
In all years, the mother shall have the children from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Mother’s Day.
b. Summer Visitation
Each parent shall have the children for two (2) uninterrupted weeks during the summer, which may be taken consecutively. Each parent shall designate their week by April 1st each year. If the parties’ chosen weeks are in conflict, mother’s choice shall control in odd years and Father’s shall control in even years. Unless otherwise agreed in writing, weeks shall start at 5:00 p.m. on the Friday beginning a party’s weekend, and continue through the following Friday at 5:00 p.m.
Visitation schedules can be complicated and can cause tensions to run high amongst parents. It’s best to consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure you receive accurate advice and guidance in negotiating a custody and visitation schedule in your domestic relations matter.