Divorce and child custody: How do we handle the holidays?

Those going through a divorce will need to address a number of issues. Two issues that tend to be the most contentious involve asset division and child custody. Both areas require careful attention. A failure to discuss the possible implications of a proposed agreement can result in unforeseen consequences.

When it comes to child custody matters, this could include the inability to see children over the holidays.

Why wouldn't I be able to see my children over the holidays?

The child custody arrangement generally includes a parenting plan. This plan is a legal document that outlines how the parents care for the children. It discusses where the children will live and how parents will resolve disputes over the rearing of the children. The court will generally order any married couple with children in Washington that is going through a divorce to have a parenting plan.

In most cases, the plan will include instructions on custody during the holidays. These instructions will be different for each family. Some examples parents may consider can include:

  • Fixed holidays. In some situations, families may choose to have one parent have custody of the children for designated holidays. This may work for parents of different faiths or traditions. For example, a Hindu and Christian family may choose to have the children celebrate Diwali with the Hindu parent and Christmas with the Christian parent.
  • Alternating holidays. More commonly, parents choose to alternate holidays. This can mean a parent would get the children for Christmas, New Year's, Labor Day weekend or any other designated holidays on the even or odd years.
  • Split holidays. Parents in close proximity may choose to split custody of children over the holidays. This can mean one parent gets time with the children during the morning and the other during the evening.

Parents that do not take the impact of these discussions into consideration before signing off on a parenting plan could find themselves celebrating holiday traditions without their children. Parents can reduce the risk of a surprise by carefully considering the impact of every provision of the agreement before signing off on the proposal.

What if I want to change our parenting plan?

There are situations where the court will allow parents to change a parenting plan. The process can go relatively quickly if both parents agree and the court finds the proposed changes, or modification, to be in the best interest of the child. However, modifications are possible even without agreement. The primary consideration is generally the best interest of the child. As such, if a disagreement is present the parent proposing the change will likely need to provide evidence to establish the proposed modification is in the best interest of the child.