Raleigh Divorce LawyerHow do divorcing parents handle the issue of Christmas and other holiday periods in custody disputes? What kind of schedules do North Carolina Divorce Courts order in Child Custody Cases? In a perfect world, every child would have the benefit of waking up to two loving parents every Christmas morning. The sad reality is that many parents do not stay together and in those cases it is crucial to establish holiday custody schedules that allow the children to experience the joy of the holidays with each parent. As a Raleigh Divorce Lawyer for over fourteen years, I have seen all kinds of holiday custody schedules and before you decide what kind of schedule works for you, there are several factors you should consider.

Two Ways to View Holidays. For school aged children, there are two ways to view holiday custody schedules. The first is to attempt to divide the actual holiday period or day. For example, Christmas is typically recognized as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and sometimes the day after Christmas. The second way to view holiday schedules is to divide the entire period the children are out of school. North Carolina school systems release for Christmas several days before the actual holiday and resume after New Years Day. The same principal is true of Thanksgiving, Easter, and some other holidays. If you address the holiday only, you are dividing only a day or two, while addressing the holiday as a break from school and dividing that time period you will be dividing more time. Either method is acceptable if it works for the children and the parents.

Tips for Non-Custodial Parents. If you are the secondary custodial parent, meaning you have less physical time with the children, look carefully at how the regular custody schedule works and would be affected by holidays. Do you have every other weekend or some other limited custody schedule during the school year? If so, you may benefit from treating the holiday schedules as the entire break from school and dividing or alternating that period as opposed to simply dealing the actual holiday itself. For example, insist on at least on half of the time period the children are out of school for the holiday. You will get more time and it will not interfere with school.

Tips for the Primary Custodial Parent. Approach holidays breaks according to the reasoning behind the regular custodial schedule. If the custodial schedule was set up the way it is (you having most of the custodial time during the school year) mainly due to school, then consider dividing longer school breaks equally if it will benefit your children. If the regular custody schedule was set up as result of the other parent not particularly wanting or being capable of having more custodial time, consider limiting holiday schedules to the dividing the holidays themselves.

Typical Christmas Schedules Examples

  • Dividing the Break. From the last day of school prior to the Christmas Holiday until December 24th at 4:00 pm at which time (Mom or Dad) shall begin their custodial time by picking up the minor child. (Mom or Dad)’s visitation shall continue until the first day of school after the Christmas holiday when the child is returned to school at which time the regular custodial schedule shall resume. This schedule will not typically be equal however the blocks can be alternated and the exchange day may of course be whatever the parties wish. The key is to divide the break in a fair and predictable way that is consistent and well defined. Naturally you would need to specify exact times and transportation responsibilities if they are not defined in the general custody provisions.
  • Dividing the holiday. (Mom or Dad) shall have custodial time with the minor children for Christmas beginning on December 24th at 9:00 am and ending on December 25th at 2:00 pm when he/she shall return the minor child. (Mom or Dad) shall have custodial time for Christmas from December 25th at 2:00 until December 26th at 8:00 pm at which time the regular custodial schedule shall resume. It is important to specify the holiday visitation for both parents, even the primary custodial parent as Christmas can fall on a weekend or other regular custodial period that could otherwise affect visitation.
  • Alternating the Holiday. While it is rarely done for Christmas, many holidays are alternated with one party have odd years and the other having even years. It would still have to be specified whether you are alternating the actual holiday or a specific period of time often associated with the holiday. For example, many people are disappointed that their failure to specify “Labor Day” as the entire Labor Day Weekend has resulted in a thwarted beach trip or other surprises.
  • Agreements to Work Out Holidays. Agreements to “agree” are not agreements at all. One cannot agree to some unspecified concept. Regardless of how amicable the parties are, all custody terms should be defined at least in the event the parties are unable to agree. Courts cannot order parties to “agree” to a substantial custodial term, however parents often settle custody disputes in Consent Orders or Separation Agreements with a provision that they “agree to divide holidays” or “share the holidays” or some other language that defers the decision. While some parties are able to always agree, others find it difficult or impossible as unforeseen factors come into to play down the road such as new spouses or love interests. Specify a schedule in the event you cannot agree.
  • Younger Children and Holidays.. Holiday schedules for children who have not begun school can be arranged in whatever fashion the parents wish and agree on or in any way a Judge finds is in the best interests of the minor child. The key is to consider what will happen when school or preschool begins. Most Agreements or Consent Custody Orders will not automatically change when the children begins school. Work with your Family Law Attorney in creating a mechanism to change of review the holiday and custody schedule upon enrollment.

Factors to Consider in Holiday Custodial Schedules

  1. Family traditions and gatherings.
  2. Travel planning and needs.
  3. Advisability of traveling on an actual holiday.
  4. Costs of travel.
  5. Potential for new family traditions after a divorce.
  6. The needs of the children to spend time with each parent.

Whatever method you choose to handle holiday custodial time, it is imperative that you seek and obtain the advice of an experienced Family Law Attorney. Child Custody cases are complicated and any agreements should be effectively drafted and formalized in a legally enforceable manner. A Child Custody Attorney can advise you on your options and North Carolina Child Custody Law. The decisions and schedules put into place early in a separation or divorce are vitally important and can be very difficult to change. Specific legal advice is the best way to ensure you and your children will have the custodial schedule that everyone deserves.

If you are facing a separation or divorce this Christmas season, remember that you are not alone. While everything may be harder this year, remember that you have the power to make it better. Consider putting all of your energy into making this Christmas the best it in can be for your children. Avoid the temptation to skip the holiday parties and family get together. Try something new and special like buying a live tree to decorate or taking the kids to a show or on a short trip.  This year may be tough, but moving on with your life and helping your children adjust can be accomplished one step at a time.

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