It’s that time again, the weather is getting cold and family is coming into town. Many families are gearing up for gift-giving, turkey cutting and coordinating their family photos. But some families are trying to figure out which parent gets what time with their children. As a family law lawyer I can’t help but worry about the possibility of emergency hearing on the eve of a holiday.
When parents make the decision to no longer share a household it becomes a huge difficulty this time of year to organize and schedule where the children are going to spend their holiday time. They are not in school, and it’s a great time to spend quality time with extended family. But what happens when the parents cannot agree on where the children are going to go?
Some things that the Maryland Courts consider:
What kind of schedule do the children have with each parent? In trying to decide which parent gets which holiday the Court takes into account how often each parent spends time with the children, the family traditions, and if there was previously no Court Order then who had last Thanksgiving or Christmas may miss this year’s holiday.
If either parent travels regularly to spend time with family or if there are family members coming into town, often that is a consideration for alternating the holidays. The distance between the parents is another factor that plays into the decision. Whether the holiday shall be alternated by year (i.e. Mom gets Thanksgiving with the children in odd years and Dad gets Thanksgiving with the children in even years) or if the holiday will be divided (i.e. Mom gets the morning and Dad gets the afternoon).
If the parents live close and are willing to both split the day then there is no problem, but often the Court will split the day and alternate who gets which part during different years. If the parents do not get along at all, alternating years may be the answer so to limit the number of exchanges.
For Thanksgiving many children are out of school early the Wednesday before until the next Monday, which means that there is more than just Thanksgiving Day to consider. If both parents are willing they could divide that extra time, but if travel is imminent then one parent may keep the children for the whole break and alternate to the other parent next year.
With Christmas Break it can be more interesting; most children have off days before Christmas Day until after the New Year. The normal split is often Christmas Eve/Christmas morning. But again, if one parent is traveling the other can miss out. Often the Court tries to evenly divide the time and gives each parent either Christmas or more time after and then alternates by odd and even years. Some parents would rather split Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day so that each parent sees the children on Christmas Day, but that requires communication and the ability to work together. This also depends on when and how each parent celebrates their Christmas Holiday.
Better you than a Judge. No Judge wants to make choices for how children are going to spend their holiday time. And they certainly do not forward to an emergency hearing on the eve of a holiday. They would rather have the parents who love and know their own situation make the choices themselves. Sadly, parents are not always able to make the choice. If you have the choice between working out an agreement with the other parent and getting told what the holiday schedule will be by a Judge, I would recommend doing you best to come to an agreement. While the Judge will try to do what is best for the child they will by necessity be imposing their view of what is the best way to handle the holiday.
Before this holiday season work together to come up with a schedule that works for you and your children and the other parent. No one wants to be at the Court House right before a holiday, or see a police car light rather than their holiday lights. Work out the details sooner rather than later so there are no misunderstandings and no fighting about when, where, and for how long.
More likely than not the children want to see both parents and spend time with everyone. Quality time is a great gift for children.