As we approach the holiday season, clients often wonder how the first Christmas that the parties are separated will be handled, especially what will happen with the children. Will Santa Claus really visit both Mom and Dad’s house? Can the children eat two Christmas meals with turkey dinner at Grandma’s and Christmas Ham at Aunt Susan’s? Over the years a few set of norms have developed to help families get through Christmas so that not only the children, but also the entire extended family, can enjoy the holidays in peace.
What appears to be the most common solution is that two twenty-four hour blocks of time are carved out of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas. The starting point is commonly Noon on Christmas Eve, which runs until Noon on Christmas Day and then Noon Christmas Day until Noon on December 26th. Therefore, if families traditionally celebrate the holiday on Christmas Eve, hopefully the parties will agree to continue to allow the children to share the holiday with that family, they may do so. However, with younger children, many people feel that having the children go to sleep on Christmas Eve and wake up Christmas morning is the most important part of the day and parents may want to alternate that experience from year-to-year. Therefore, on even years, one parent will have the first twenty-four hour block of time and then on odd years, the other parent would have the second twenty-four hour block of time beginning Noon on Christmas Day through Noon on December 26th. Again, many families celebrate Christmas by having a large family dinner early in the afternoon or evening. Therefore, this would accommodate families that celebrate accordingly. However, children would have a celebratory meal on Christmas Eve and then possibly have a second celebratory meal on Christmas Day. In the vast majority of cases, this is a workable solution in that in alternating years, the other party would have the other day and the children would have similar experiences in both households every two years. Where this may not work is if the family, such as grandparents and/or other close family members do not live the same community, and there needs to be travel. The only recommendation that we would make for those families is that you have a portion of the Winter vacation which usually occurs beginning immediately on the 26th through the New Year’s holiday and that you would travel at that point in time to visit your family. Therefore, quite possibly you could take the children Christmas Day at Noon and travel, which many people know is the light travel day to get to your destination, you could possibly be there in time for dinner. If not, you would celebrate the holiday the next day.
There is no black and white rule that controls in all courts or all families; however, trying to address this issue months ahead of time is far better than trying to address this issue days ahead of time. Therefore, if this is your first Christmas where you are separated, start having a dialogue with the other parent to see if you can come up with a mutually agreeable schedule sooner than later. If for some reason you are unable to do so on your own, then seek the assistance of your attorney, sooner than later. Only after the attorneys are unable to come up with a compromise resolution would it be necessary to seek court intervention. However, most attorneys know the practice in their area and what the judges would recommend and/or rule. Therefore, listening to their advice on how to share the holiday will save you time, aggravation, and money. Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
David L. Ladov is chair of Obermayer’s family law department. He handles both routine and complex cases, representing clients in a wide range of matters involving the most personal and sensitive legal issues that affect every aspect of families in transition. He was selected by Best Lawyers in America and was named as one of Pennsylvania’s Top 100 Lawyers and Philadelphia’s Top 100 Lawyers by Pennsylvania Super Lawyers®. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a member of Ten Leaders of Matrimonial & Divorce Law of Greater Philadelphia. Mr. Ladov works out of Obermayer’s Conshohocken, PA office and he can be reached at 267-675-4976 or at firstname.lastname@example.org