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Custody over the holidays

Custody and visitation rights are difficult issues even when parents are keeping a regular schedule. While holidays may be considered a festive time with happy memories, complying with child custody orders may be even more difficult and emotional. However, this can be resolved with planning and cooperation.

A properly negotiated and drafted custody schedule covers other matters besides the time parents spend with the children each week. It should also address custody during school breaks, vacations, summer break and holidays.

Even with a court-ordered custody schedule, parents often repeat the same discussion or arguments each year concerning how the children will spend a holiday. The holiday time from Thanksgiving Day through New Year's Day provoke the most disagreements.

Usually, custody agreements grant custody to one parent for a holiday during even years and to the other parent during odd years. Parents will sometimes split Thanksgiving, so that the children attend two holiday dinners on different days. One parent will have the children for Christmas Eve, while the other parent has custody over Christmas Day. If the parents have different religions, disputes may be avoided for many religious holidays.

Parents should respect family traditions and the need for lengthy travel to visit relatives. Spending time with an extended family is also important for the children.

These goals must be pursued within the terms of a custody order. However, parents who are willing to compromise may deviate from these orders. A parent should request any deviation from custody schedules as soon as possible to allow discussion and compromise. Parents should always remember that the unhappiness associated with custody disputes, especially over the holidays, fall most heavily on their children.

If parents are unable to address these issues or a parent is violating a custody order, a parent can seek court enforcement. Courts are becoming stricter with enforcement and may impose penalties, such as fines, imprisonment and attorneys' fees.

Parents should seek the assistance of an attorney to help negotiate a reasonable agreement that meets the best interests of the child. A lawyer may also seek enforcement of a custody order, if necessary.

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