Usually, we say that the weather outside is frightful this time of year. Given the temperatures in New Jersey lately, it is more like the weather is delightful. But, given the behavior of many ex-spouses, disputes surrounding Christmas parenting time can be very frightful. The week before this important holiday is dreaded by family law attorneys for the number of disputes that arise. It is truly the most interesting time of the year.
When disputes arise about the Christmas holiday, the first thing that comes to mind is that it occurs at the same time every year. In our experience, most people wait until the last minute to address important issues. It may be due to the desire to avoid conflict or the human propensity to procrastinate. Whatever the reason, many discover issues with Christmas parenting time mere days in advance of the holiday.
In our courts, most disputes take approximately a month to resolve if everything proceeds in a timely fashion. Something called a motion is filed and is heard, at the earliest, 24 days later. If there are no delays and the court actually makes a decision, you will have a solution to your dispute. In order to apply this to Christmas, you must file a motion by mid-November and hope that there are no delays. What happens if you wait too long or the court delays the case past Christmas?
During the week of Christmas, many attorneys file Orders to Show Cause. This is our emergency mechanism for getting a judge to make a decision quickly. Technically, the court does not entertain these emergency applications absent a showing of irreparable harm. Every judge has a different opinion of what qualifies as irreparable harm, so the filing of this type of application is not certain to actually achieve a positive result. In our opinion, the court will look and see if the dispute is something that could have been resolved earlier (i.e., not at the last minute).
When it comes to disputes over Christmas parenting time, it is important to ensure your settlement agreement very clearly sets forth exactly what days and what hours each parent is going to have. Many think that level of detail is unnecessary in their agreement, but it helps to avoid the disputes that plague so many when the time comes for the holidays. If you have a clearly defined schedule and one parent still refuses to abide by that schedule, then you are left with no choice but court intervention. After all, Christmas only happens once per year.
If you have any questions about how to deal with Christmas or any other holiday during the year, call us at 732-529-6937. We will not tell you what you want to hear. We will tell you what you need to know. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!