SAN DIEGO, November 21, 2011 — For divorced or separated parents, the holidays aren’t always like a Hallmark card, not all warm and fuzzy. Instead, phones start ringing off the hook in family law offices all over the country as families start squabbling over custody and visitation schedules, winter vacations and even gift-giving.
Serious fears about non-custodial parent abductions and unsupervised visits can arise.
Most attorneys would rather enjoy the holidays with their own families than rush into court to file emergency legal documents during the season. Think ahead and consider these tips so you can enjoy your holiday season with minimum stress for you and your children. Bonus: you’ll also avoid the added financial expense of legal bills.
Get out your most recent court order. Is there a holiday schedule included in it? It may be a while since you looked it over. Get familiar with specific dates and times your children are with you, and when they are supposed to be with the other parent. Holiday visitation might supercede the regular routine.
Be proactive and send a friendly confirmation of the holiday schedule to the other parent so that expectations are clear. It is better to find out early if there is going to be a battle. See if there are any areas of disagreement you can solve through reasonable discussion now.
Attorneys are usually happy to review your holiday schedules for minimum or no cost. Whatever the cost, it will save time, money, and stress in the long run if you end up hiring an attorney to work out a schedule at the last minute.
Draw up a holiday schedule for your kids and post it. Make sure everyone is familiar with it so transitions are smooth. No one needs any surprises other than the ones from Santa.
Be flexible and adapt to unusual circumstances. If family members are making a special visit from out of town, do not punish your children by prohibiting visitation even if it’s your regular time. It might be the only time of the year seeing them is possible. Encouraging ongoing relationships with all of your children’s family members is always in their best interest.
Do your kids have to travel to visit a parent who lives far away? Each parent should have a copy of the specific holiday schedule, contact numbers and addresses so the non-visiting parent can stay in touch during the visitation period. If there are any gray areas, get your custody order clarified and get consent from the other parent in writing so there are no misunderstandings.
If your concerns about out-of-town visitation rise to the level of fear for a child’s safety or suspicions about child abduction, you may want to discuss your concerns with a family law attorney and decide whether you need to ask a court for a modification of visitation. You must normally show that a change of circumstances has occurred and that modifying visitation is in the best interests of a child.
As a general rule, you cannot take minor children out of your state without the other parent’s express written consent. The other parent should be informed right away if you plan to leave town. Don’t forget and then expect him or her to agree to your prearranged holiday the day before the trip. Provide an itinerary and contact telephone numbers.
Stay positive and assure your kids they will enjoy happy holidays with both of you, even if you are personally disappointed your kids may not be with you on a particular day. Your anxiety will create anxiety in your children. Don’t make them take sides and don’t make them feel guilty for enjoying time with the other parent’s side of the family.
It may be a good time for new traditions. If you feel sadness about family activities that remind you of a time your family was together, forget about struggling to keep everything the same. Accept change as positive and introduce some new, fun activities into your holiday. But don’t upset your kids by making changes all at once.
If your divorce is fresh, sitting down with your ex and his or her family at the dinner table might be beyond your capacity right now. Once the wounds start to heal, see if you can be the bigger person and invite grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – and yes, the ex - to dinner. While your relationship with them has changed, your child’s relationships with them have not. See if you can’t manage to be polite for a few hours to allow your children to enjoy a family meal or event.
A minimum effort on your part could save you and your family from an emotional or financial disaster. Having to hire a family law attorney during the holidays can be a nightmare and a distraction at an already busy time of year. This is supposed to be a special time of the year for everyone, most of all your children.
Myra Chack Fleischer founded Fleischer & Associates in 2001 and serves as Lead Counsel with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Fleischer & Associates on Facebook and on Twitter @LawyerMyra
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Copyright © 2011 by Fleischer & Associates, Attorneys at Law
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