One of the regular causes of contested hearings in Family Court is disputes about vacation and holiday contact – especially around Christmas.
When I was a family magistrate, I used to have the clerk hold two days open in the week before Christmas so that we would have a place in the schedule for “Christmas Emergency” hearings.
One of the low points of my career involved a hotly contested hearing about Christmas visitation for a young teen that went until about 7:30 pm on the last day that the court was open before Christmas. (Fortunately, it was not actually Christmas Eve!) Despite my best efforts to prevent him, the father insisted on calling his young daughter to testify. While I honestly don’t remember what the specific dispute was, or what I decided, I will never forget the scared expression on the girl’s face as she tried to avoid offending either of her parents.
I also remember how I felt sitting in my car in the cold courthouse garage after the hearing was over, trying to calm down, and wondering whether I should head home or call my doctor’s office over my thumping heart and tension headache. Obviously, a good time was had by all.
So, if you have kids, and you are wondering when would be a good time to start planning for the holidays, NOW would be great.
If you already have a plan, and if that plan provides for sharing of the holidays in a way that works for all families, GREAT. Congratulations!
If not, please contact the other parent, and develop such a plan. Please remember the following:
Here is one example of a balanced holiday plan:
In all even numbered years, Mother shall have the children;
In all even numbered years, Father shall have the children:
In all odd numbered years, the parties shall reverse the above schedule.
As a last resort, if there is no established schedule, and if you can’t come to any agreement, you may need a brief hearing in court. If so, DO NOT call the court a week before Christmas and think that you will necessarily get a hearing. Contact the court, and file whatever paperwork to get the process going sooner rather than later.
Finally, if you do go to court, remember that if the Judge thinks that you are being greedy or overreaching (“My family always spends both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning together, and that’s what I want.”) it is more likely that you will not get what you are asking for.
Senior Policy Advisor