Holiday Parenting Time
By Jeff J. Horn, Esquire
Holiday Parenting time is a great challenge in Ocean County family law cases.
Frequently, separating parents turn Holiday Parenting time into a battleground. There is a hue and cry that results in nasty Parenting time disputes over Holidays. How do these matters resolve in Ocean County?
Holiday Parenting time – Customs
If the parents were together for a long time, Holiday customs may have been established. Accordingly, aligning Holiday Parenting time with historical practices is likely best for the children. Remember, the best interests of the children are always paramount in child custody.
Parents that have been together for only a short time may not have created Holiday Parenting time rituals.
Age of children – Holiday Parenting time
Holidays have a sweet spot for children in Ocean County. Babies do not know what day it is. They do not know if you celebrate the Holiday on a particular day. Older children may be less engaged in Holidays or not participate at all.
Experience tells me ages 5 to 13 are Holiday sweet spots.
Holiday Parenting time in the courts
Time for cold water. Child custody disputes rarely turn on Holiday Parenting time. Objectively, family and child custody judges are faced with severe abuse and neglect cases. Judges see and hear shocking evidence of abuse and neglect. Do not expect your child custody judge to become emotionally engaged in your Holiday Parenting time dispute.
Christmas Parenting time
Historically, families look at Christmas as nearly (2) separate Holidays – Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. If your ex has a big Christmas eve get together with family and your family celebrates on Christmas day. There should be no dispute. Alas, child custody frequently serve as a proxy for other issues.
Focusing on the children permits both parents to set aside bitterness and allow the children to celebrate the entire Holiday. Child custody matters cool down. Occasionally, parents can even enjoy a special Holiday together.
Holiday Parenting time and mixed religion
In Ocean County and New Jersey it is not uncommon to find one parent is Catholic and one parent is Jewish. Neither are particularly observant. They separate. Suddenly, one or both run back to family traditions including religion. These parents can work to undermine the religious Holiday observations of the other parent. The losers in such a battle – the children. Remember, best interest of the children always prevail
Get sensible and enjoy the Holidays important to each religion.
What’s a Holiday?
Certain Holidays require celebration on the actual Holiday. For example, Holidays that include attending a house of worship need to align.
There is no temple service two days before Rosh Hashanah and no Christmas mass on December 27. Hence, if religious observation is not primary, Holidays may be enjoyed by splitting a day or celebrating a day before or the day after the official Holiday.
What if we disagree on Holiday Parenting time?
Dispassionate courts have a ready-made answer. I advise my clients with child custody issues, the court does not care when you enjoy Holiday Parenting time. To the contrary, if you cannot agree the court will simply apply the generic court Holiday schedule. On the occasion when clients cannot agree, on Holiday Parenting time, I suggest the following language.
“The parties will work cooperatively to share important Holidays. If they cannot agree they shall follow the court Holiday schedule.”
Then I share the court Holiday schedule:
- Christmas Eve, December 24th at 6:00 p.m. to Christmas Day, December 25th at 11:00 a.m.
- Christmas Day, December 25th at 11:00 a.m. to December 26th at 4:00 p.m.
- New Year’s Eve, December 31st at 6:00 p.m. to January 1st at 11:00 a.m.
- New Year’s Day, January 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Martin Luther King Day, if relevant (unless the child is in school)
- Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, President’s Day (unless the child is in school)
- Good Friday, 10:00 a.m. to Easter Saturday at 4:00 p.m.
- Easter Saturday, 4:00 p.m. to Easter Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
- Memorial Day
- Fourth of July
- Labor Day
- Thanksgiving Day
- Special Days
The following special days shall be adhered to as indicated:
- Father’s birthday to father (from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., if it falls on a school day)
- Mother’s birthday to mother (from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., if it falls on a school day)
- Mother’s Day to mother
- Father’s Day to father
- Child’s birthday – Non-custodial parent to have at least three (3) hours visitation
- Other Days of Observance That May Be Considered, if Applicable
- Yom Kippur
- Rosh Hashanah
- Columbus Day
(Note: unless otherwise noted, those holidays will run from 10:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.)
Now, hardly anyone finds this Parenting schedule reasonable or fulfilling. Especially, working on the bigger religious Holidays. Families may need to travel to gather with loved ones. Traveling great distances during the middle of what should be a fun Holiday for the children is a downer. If you want to alienate your children, have them driving between New Jersey and Massachusetts for every Holiday.
Holiday Parenting time and vacation. Ocean County parents love to fly south for the winter. The winter school break often overlaps with Christmas and Hanukkah. The spring school break often overlaps with Easter and Passover. Will you allow your ex to take the children to Florida for a few days? Even if it slightly disturbed your Holiday plans?
Ocean County Courts let kids go on vacation
I blush to write that I have litigated numerous cases over vacation time. Parents fight over holding the child’s passport heading to Bermuda for the Caribbean islands. Do not expect a court to stop a child from enjoying a vacation of fun in the sun. Every vacation case I brought – I want. The child got to go to Antigua, Jamaica or Aruba. And, the kids loved it. Furthermore, all of the children returned safely. Generally, Holiday Parenting vacations are viewed as in the best interests of the children. A little plug for my travel agent – she is the best. Liz Grudus
Still it’s the best interest of the children.
School work cannot be ignored due to Holiday Parenting time travel. Papers, projects and studying maybe part of the trip. Contact teachers and online resources to make sure the child has the resources to keep up with school work.
Parents deserve to know where the children are travel. A detailed itinerary includes flight information, hotel information and any exceptional activities. Don’t take your young children skydiving without the consent of the other parent.
Advanced notice is key.
Reasonable people provide reasonable notice. Otherwise, draft a reasonable notice provision into your child custody agreement or court order. For international travel, longer notice is reasonable. A passport is needed. A letter permitting travel from a non-traveling parent is also required. Do not wait until the last minute and expect good results common sense, it still applies in child custody and Holiday Parenting time.
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