What You Need to Know
As we gear up for the holiday season, scheduling holiday events and gatherings becomes a priority for separated and intact families alike. For separated families, however, this scheduling process becomes all the more complicated and stressful, especially for those in Pennsylvania who are going through the holiday season separately for the first time.
Planning a Holiday Child Custody Schedule in Bucks County without a Custody Order
For those in Doylestown and other parts of Bucks County without a custody order, there is no way to ensure that holiday time will be divided in a fair and equitable manner; the parties must rely on each other’s cooperation to establish a fair arrangement. Theoretically, one parent could retain custody throughout the entire holiday season, even though it would be contrary to the children’s best interests. As a result, such informal arrangements are best reserved for parents who have an amicable relationship and good co-parenting skills. Parents who can make this work can benefit as follows:
- They will not be limited to the “default” holiday custody schedule typically established by the court and instead can focus on what is important to them. For instance, Christmas Eve may be more important than Christmas Day for one parent, and vice versa. Instead of alternating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on an annual basis, one parent can have Christmas Eve each year, and the other parent can have Christmas Day each year. By way of another example, the parents may decide that it makes more sense for one person to have both New Year’s Eve and Day each year, even though the default arrangement would be to split and alternate on an annual basis. They even can decide to split a holiday day. For example, if the parents’ respective families eat Thanksgiving dinner at different times that do no overlap, they can split the day so as to allow the children to have Thanksgiving dinner with both parents and their respective families.
- They can make changes to the holiday custody schedule from year to year, based on what works best for any given year, rather than being bound to what was established in the past. This allows the parents to take into account unique holiday events. For purposes of illustration, say one parent in Doylestown has an extended family gathering scheduled for Christmas Eve, whereas such parent usually has custody on Christmas Day instead. Even if Christmas Eve typically is the other parent’s holiday, for that particular year, they can switch, so the children can partake in the special event.
Planning a Holiday Child Custody Schedule in Bucks County with a Custody Order
For those who cannot do without a custody order, it is crucial to have a custody order that contains a specific holiday custody schedule, with as little ambiguity and room for deviation as possible. Otherwise, in the event of a dispute, it will be almost impossible to get court involvement quickly enough to help facilitate a resolution. Any court involvement would serve to address future problems, but that provides little comfort to those whose holidays are ruined as a result of an unexpected disagreement over applicable terms. Some best practice tips for drafting a solid holiday custody schedule are as follows:
- Have defined starting and ending times for each holiday. If the agreement says “from Christmas Eve until Christmas Day morning,” what does that mean? When does Christmas Eve start – 5 p.m., 6 p.m. or 8 p.m.? When should the exchange take place on Christmas Day morning – 8 a.m., 9 a.m. or 10 a.m.? If a parent gets “Easter Sunday,” does that mean the whole day (i.e., 24 hours) or just the daytime (i.e., from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.)? There is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions, which makes it much more difficult to resolve them, even if both parties have counsel ready and willing to help.
- Specify who provides transportation, if the transportation arrangements will be different for holiday time. Lack of clarity on this point may result in delayed holiday start times and end times.
- Clarify whether the holiday custody schedule will be the same from year to year, or vary depending on whether it is an odd year or an even year. It is fairly common to have one schedule apply for odd years and another schedule apply for even years.
- Make sure that the holiday custody schedule explicitly supersedes the regular and vacation custody schedules. Otherwise, one parent may decide to take his or her vacation time over all of the important holidays, leaving the other parent with no holiday time.
Related Doylestown and Newtown Child Custody Article – Back to School: How Custody Arrangements Affect Your Choice of School for Your Children
Regardless of which approach works best, it is important to start the planning process sufficiently in advance to allow for time to go back and forth and negotiate the final terms. No one wants to spend the holidays arguing about custody terms, especially when it can be avoided. Having to share holiday time may not be ideal for anyone, but it should be done in as fair a manner as possible to make sure the children’s best interests are protected.