Written by attorney Michael John Harrington

Divorced with Children: Holiday Visitation Agreements

The holidays are a time for families to spend together but for parents who are separated or divorced, this can be an especially trying time of year. An enforceable, well thought out child visitation agreement will help. A well thought out visitation agreement is one that puts the best interests of the children first. While each situation is unique, in most cases the child should spend meaningful time with each parent over the holidays. Sometimes this is accomplished by sharing a holiday vacation with each parent. For example, one half of Christmas day with dad and one half with mom. Most visitation schedules alternate holidays, in other words one year the children are with mom on Thanksgiving day and the next year they are with dad that day. This avoids shuttling the children around and instead allows the children to enjoy the whole day with one parent. If mom has the children on Thanksgiving day then for example dad would have the children on Christmas day. Mediators and family courts have schedules to use and holidays are alternated with an odd year/even year plan. In even years such as 2010 mom may have Christmas day but then in odd years such as 2011 dad has Christmas day. Vacations are normally divided for example a two week Christmas vacation will allow one week with each parent. Picking a neutral drop off/pick up location reduces stress on the children. This is not the time to exchange comments with the other parent. The parents should have their discussions some other time. Geographic location, travel time, work schedules are all considered in each visitation agreement. The schedule can be tailored to your own situation. Working with experienced family attorneys and mediators can help produce a workable agreement. especially, when the parents put the children first and do not use the visitation negotiations as an opportunity to get "one up" on the other parent. Once an agreement for visitation is reached, it needs to be reduced to a writing and most importantly, signed by the Judge and made a court order. Verbal agreements and informal written agreements which are not reduced to a court order are not enforceable. Moreover, they are often a source of bickering when each parent remembers the agreement differently or decides to deviate from it. You can make your agreement enforceable by filing an Order to Show Cause Re Visitation and attaching the signed agreement for the Court to approve. If approved (most agreements are approved unless the Court decides it is not in the best interests of the child); the court will issue a written "order" signed by the Judge and file stamped by the court clerk. Keep copies with you in case a dispute arises later.

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