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How Do You Deal with the Holiday Disputes and Child Custody?

Holiday disputes after separation and divorce can create a permanent scar. For that reason, specificity in the Parenting Agreement or Settlement Agreement is the best conflict avoidance mechanism. Leaving “gaps” in the Agreement language is a recipe for conflict. Transportation obligations should also be included. The parties should be mindful of which party or both may be tired or has been holiday drinking when considering transportation issues.

Using terms like “Winter Break” in an agreement can be confusing or misleading. Many school calendars exclude abutting weekends when defining the school breaks. This could lead to conflicts over whether the weekend schedule or the “break” schedule applies. If airplane tickets and hotel reservations have been made, this “gap” can be costly. Precision in drafting holiday provisions is the way to be assured that the answer to the conflict can be found in the Agreement.

Many times parties separating or divorcing while on friendly terms, dupes them into thinking they do not need specificity. By avoiding specificity, they intend to communicate to each other “I trust you; you would never be unfair in holiday sharing; we work things out” etc. They may not want to spend the money in drafting or mediating the details. This is an error.

Urging at least a “default” schedule is an option. The “default” schedule is expressly intended to allow for flexibility, but provides the “answer” to a dispute.

Friendlier separating and divorcing parents prefer not to think about conflicts over children. However, when a parent is remarried, his or her holiday schedule may need to be coordinated with the new spouse, and suddenly the schedule matters.

Conflict avoidance in drafting is only preventative. If the parties have a holiday conflict Nancy Caplan, Esquire at Maryland Divorce Mediation & Legal Services is available to mediate on an emergency basis. All family law practitioners know that such emergencies are part of the practice area. Finding a fair resolution may be difficult, but if the conflict is not either party’s fault (i.e. no specificity in the Agreement) then the parties should consider, 1.) Whether a party will lose non-refundable tickets, (for airplane tickets, show tickets. Etc.); 2.) Who in the extended families will be present (i.e. Is a cherished elderly person making a rare appearance? Are the children’s favorite cousins in attendance? ); 3.) Is there a way for fair sharing of the disputed holiday even if the sharing is somewhat inconvenient? It is better to experience an abbreviated holiday with the Children and/or to be inconvenienced than to allow the wound to create a permanent scar. The Children will not enjoy a minute of the holiday in the environment of parental dispute so finding the solution is clearly in their best interest. Another solution may be a different sharing of the days surrounding the holiday. In other words, the mediated resolution for the holiday in dispute may be messy and applicable only to the specific holiday in dispute. When in doubt, the parent who is willing to endure the hurt to spare the children is the “bigger” person if the alternative is ugly drama.

After the holiday is over, the parties should immediately seek to add details to their Parenting Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement (i.e. separation agreement). Be aware that tensions have now been elevated and the parties should be on high alert relating to future holiday conflicts. In addition, the parties may have had the benefit of experiencing the holidays as single people and therefore have a better understanding of their needs and the needs of the Children. Revise your holiday provision and make the effort to think it through in detail. Hopefully the mediation will also allow each party to express themselves and may aid in healing the hurt from the disputed holiday.

If all else fails, contact Nancy Caplan, Esquire, an attorney-mediator who can help. Skype sessions may be had in appropriate circumstances. Avoid holiday disputes, and remember, bend, don’t break- Mediate. Happy Holidays!

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