Each year, countless families get excited about gathering together for the holidays. However, for many families this time of year can be a bit more stressful than others, because they have a court ordered visitation plan in place that they must consider when making holiday plans. Although co-parenting is not always easy, the following tips will help those who are co-parenting have a smoother holiday season.
1. Know that the ORDER is what really matters. In every custody action or divorce involving minor children, a court will Order parents to abide by a parenting plan that guides general visitation and holiday visitation. Parents are often given leeway to modify the visitation schedule as they wish. However, in the event something falls through or one party chooses not to follow the modified agreement, the courts will look at the signed Order when deciding if a parent has behaved improperly. If you are in a co-parenting situation in which lines of communication are weak or if you feel leery of informal modifications of a parenting plan, then your best bet is to follow the letter of the court Order rather than making up your own plan. This gives you more remedies in the event one parent falls through or changes their mind.
2. Have a clear understanding of the visitation schedule. Whether you are following the court Order exactly or if you are in a co-parenting situation where you feel comfortable altering the conditions of the Order, it is important that all aspects of the visitation period are clearly understood by both parents. This includes drop-off/pick-up time and location, length of visitation period, etc. If you change the drop-off/pick-up date and/or time, lengthen or shorten the visitation period, or modify drop-off/pick-up location, please make these arrangements as early as possible. Whenever possible, email or text confirmation of the visitation arrangements. This should especially be done if informally modifying conditions. Though these text/email modifications are still not a binding Court Order, it is easier to know exactly what each party intends by seeing the arrangements clearly laid out and confirmed in writing.
3. Keep necessary parties informed of arrangements. It is important that schools, day care centers, baby-sitters, or any other third parties who generally interact with the child know if there will be a disruption in the regular drop-off/pick-up schedule and/or visitation schedule. If, for instance, the father will pick up the minor child at the end of the school day before Thanksgiving break or winter break, please make the school staff aware of this well in advance. Many schools require a copy of the Order on file for their records. This is extremely important in co-parenting situations where the parents do not regularly communicate. Having a well-informed third party aware of the change will ensure the child’s transition into the holiday visitation schedule will be an easy one.
4. Know your rights. If you are the birth father of a child born out of wedlock, you are not guaranteed a right to visitation with your child. This is true even if you are paying child support. Many fathers do not know this and are caught off guard when they try to get holiday visitation with their child and are denied. The court does provide a mechanism to get the father on equal footing with the mother through a legal process called legitimation. A court can establish legitimation, visitation, and custody and will require a detailed parenting plan be put in place if custody and visitation is awarded to the father. If you file for legitimation, you can often petition the court for temporary or holiday visitation while trying to fine tune the long term visitation and custody schedule.
5. Keep track of “violations” of visitation agreement. If a parent is consistently violating the parenting plan, keep track of the violations so that you can go before the court and make the court aware of that parent’s behavior. Often, if you can show that a parent has withheld visitation, shortened a visitation period, or brought a child late for a visitation period, you can petition the court to find that parent in contempt of court. Remedies for this may be that the court award you attorney’s fees, make-up parenting time, or in extreme cases incarceration of the offending parent. Knowing you have these remedies available can often make parties more agreeable and less likely to violate the Order of the Court.
Disclaimer: The content relayed in this blog article is purely informational and should not be construed as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is created until a retainer agreement is executed by both client and attorney.