Dealing With the Holidays in a Bucks County, PA Custody Dispute

With Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s just around the corner, now is the time when we receive many questions about how to deal with the holiday schedule in custody actions in Doylestown, Newtown and other regions in Bucks County, PA, so we wanted to provide some advice on this issue.

Oftentimes, parents involved in a custody dispute get so focused on the overall physical custody schedule (primary versus partial, 50/50, etc.), that they fail to consider the more nuanced issues that will become important over time, such as that of the holiday schedule.

Bucks County Custody Dispute Example

As an example, let us consider the scenario of John and Jane Smith in Doylestown, PA.  They decide to divorce and come to an agreement, whereby custody of their two children will be divided equally, with each parent having custody for a week (a “week on/week off” schedule); the parties do not account for any deviations from this default schedule.  Unfortunately, Father’s Day comes, and it falls during Jane’s week.  John asks to spend Father’s Day with in children, and Jane says “no, I have plans with the children’s grandfather, and you can celebrate during your week.”  John and the children are disappointed, and John vows to be just as unaccommodating come Mother’s Day.  Ultimately, there are hard feelings all around and understandably so.  A well thought out custody arrangement would have avoided the above troubles from the beginning.

Related Doylestown & Newtown Child Custody Blog – Custody and Entry of Appearance Rule Changes in Pennsylvania

It is important to understand the hierarchy of a Custody Order.  First comes the regular custody schedule, which is who has custody of the children on a regular basis.  In our above example, that would be the parents alternating custody on a weekly basis.  Once that regular custody schedule is entered as an Order of Court, the parents still can agree to any deviations from that schedule that they want.  However, if John and Jane cannot agree on a requested change, the Custody Order is the final word.

Next on the hierarchy ladder is the vacation schedule.  A Custody Order should include some language that provides for each party to have specific vacation periods.  For the couple in our example, a vacation schedule may not be so important, since they have a week on/week off schedule, and each can take a vacation with the children during his or her custodial time.  However, for most parties, two (2) non-consecutive weeks during the summer, after providing thirty (30) days’ written notice, is normal.

The top of the hierarchy ladder in custody is the holiday schedule.  A well thought out Custody Order will set out a specific holiday schedule.  For instance, Father gets the Children on Father’s Day from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; the parties alternate Christmas Day from noon to 8:00 p.m. on an annual basis, etc.    The specific holiday schedule trumps both the regular custody and vacation schedules.  In our example, John will get to spend Father’s Day with the parties’ children, even if falls during Jane’s regular custodial time.

When the terms are part of the Custody Order from the beginning in a Bucks County child custody case, both parents are aware and know what to expect in advance, which minimizes the potential for future conflict.  Therefore, for the children’s best interests, it is crucial to consider and address these issues in advance.