Divorce, Visitation, and the Holidays

The holidays may take on a different meaning for families in the midst of a divorce or not too far removed from the process. When parents live in separate homes, and even great distances from each other, this complicates spending quality time with children during the holiday season, and it can lead to conflict.

Many families have established traditions with their children and are unsure how those will continue once the parents decide to split up. While finding joy and peace during the holiday season might seem like more of a challenge than usual, it is certainly still possible if parents agree to remain flexible and put the needs of their children first.

Holiday Custody and Visitation

Holiday visitation is generally laid out either in the temporary or final order from the Court or in a Court-approved agreement between the parties. These all outline how visits and holidays are split between the two parents. Even if your divorce is not final, you should have a temporary custody and visitation arrangement that will provide guidance. Most visitation arrangements include one of three options:

  1. There is no special holiday schedule, meaning the regular time-sharing schedule applies even during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and other holidays.
  2. There is a schedule specified, but the parents are able to agree on something outside the schedule if they wish, and they may choose to follow the schedule as a default if necessary (i.e. they can’t agree).
  3. The holiday schedule is specified with defined start and end times for each parent’s time with the children for certain holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions.

In theory, any of these three options could work, but the first two may present some issues. With the first one, there is never any guarantee that one parent or the other will have the children on a holiday in a given year. With the second, there may be a series of unnecessary conflicts if the two parents are unable to agree on a satisfactory schedule. To avoid the most conflicts, option three is the most common plan implemented into a family court order or agreement.

Handling Winter Break and Specific Holidays

Most parents would love to have their children on Christmas morning, but divorce makes this difficult. If your family celebrates this holiday or any other, time-sharing can be accomplished by allowing one parent to have the children on Christmas Eve and morning on odd years and the other parent gets Christmas afternoon and dinner. Then, the order will be switched for even years.

Children also get time off from school during this period. There are several common ways to handle visitation during winter break. The first is to have the parents split the break into two parts, with one parent having the children during the first half and the other during the second, with modifications for Christmas day. The other option is to have one parent take the whole break during odd years and the other during even years, again with visitation allowances for Christmas day.

For parents who live close to each other, sometimes it will also work to maintain the same regular schedule year-round but split the days of all major holidays (i.e. mother gets Thanksgiving day until 2:00 p.m. and father gets 2:00 p.m. on, and a similar split for Christmas Eve and Christmas day which could alternate between parents every other year).

When You Want to Make Changes to the Visitation Schedule

Let’s assume that there is a defined visitation schedule and it doesn’t fit with your plans. You can make adjustments to these schedules, provided your ex agrees. This is where creativity and compromise become essential skills in navigating the co-parenting landscape after a divorce.

One of the best things you can do when you want to modify a schedule is to give plenty of notice and remain flexible. If you are asking an ex to give something up, be willing to provide them with some extra time with the children in return.

While you certainly have the option to go before a judge to request a resolution of issues, it’s important to understand that an ex doesn’t have to agree to anything that isn’t in the custody/ visitation order. In the end, the courts would rather you resolve your issues between yourselves and decide what is best for the children instead of asking a judge to do so.

If it’s clear a visitation schedule is not working between you and your ex but you can’t work out alternate arrangements on your own, it is possible to file for a modification of the visitation schedule. Keep in mind, though, that to be successful you would have to show there has been a significant change in circumstances since your last order that affects the welfare or best interests of your child. In other words, a modification will not likely be successful if it’s simply based on your own or your ex’s convenience.

Speak with a Knowledgeable South Carolina Family Law Attorney

It’s not uncommon for parents to become caught up in their own emotions when making important decisions about the holidays. You and your ex should always try to keep the focus on your children, letting them know throughout the season that they are loved by both of you.

In some cases, an ex makes matters worse, or a situation is simply too difficult to handle without help. If you are facing any type of family legal issue, such as divorce, custody, support, or the need for modifications, the experienced family law attorneys at Cate & Brough Law Firm can help. Contact us today at 864-585-4226 to schedule your initial consultation. You may also send us a message through our web contact form or stop by our Spartanburg office at your convenience.

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Cate & Brough, P.A.

At Cate & Brough, we all have personal experience with family law and family court. We know more than just what the law says about your issue – we know what you are going through.

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