Virginia Family Law: (Un)happy Holidays?

Happy belated holidays and best wishes for the New Year! Family law firms invariably see an uptick in business both before and after the holidays. Holidays for separated parents are never easy. Often the pressure to make them memorable in a positive way makes the days themselves less than enjoyable. For those contemplating separation or who are in the midst of divorce, a bit of forethought may make the holidays somewhat less frustrating. Consider the following language that commonly appears in visitation agreements: "[t]he parties shall equally divide all of the major holidays; the parties shall work together to determine the actual times of each party's visitation on the holidays." Such provisions work great while the parties are "playing nice" with one another, but become near meaningless when the parties no longer see eye-to-eye. What constitutes a "major holiday?" At what time do the holidays begin and end? How will transportation work? What if one party wants to travel during the holiday? In most cases it makes sense to be as detailed as possible when dealing with the holidays. Details help each party manage his or her expectations. Consider the following alternative language: "[u]nless the parties otherwise agree, Thanksgiving shall be from school dismissal for the holiday through 6:00 p.m. on the Sunday following the holiday. Mother shall have the child for Thanksgiving on even-numbered years and Father shall have the child for Thanksgiving on odd-numbered years. The party exercising holiday visitation shall be responsible for picking up the child from school and returning the child at the conclusion of the holiday visitation where necessary." In this example, each party knows his/her obligations and can plan accordingly. They have a default schedule but can vary it by agreement as necessary each year. An additional benefit of defining each holiday is that it offers the parties an opportunity to capture individually significant days. For example, a father who appreciates his spouse's meaningful tradition on Easter may be willing to forego visitation on Easter (particularly when he doesn't feel strongly about that holiday) in exchange for his spouse's agreement to honor his tradition of taking the children to his parent's lake house for the Fourth of July. In this way, on balance, the children benefit from exercising visitation with the parent who is most interested in making the holiday special. If you would like to discuss the various ways parties deal with the holidays during separation, divorce and afterwards, please feel free to give me a call.

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