Trick or Treat: Custody plan or custody dispute, your choice.
Winter Family Fest or Lump of Coal?
With the impending holiday season, from Halloween, to the Jewish High Holidays, to Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas and New Year’s, there is certainly “much food for fight.” There is also an alternative, “plan ahead”. I believe the children are the most important consideration and it is imperative for parents to remember that custodial exchanges are the most stressful part of the lives of children, much in part due to their anticipation of parents seeing each other (yes, children feel their parent’s stress and emotion) and/or parent’s display of unbecoming/angry/disturbing behavior. I suggest “curbside” custody exchanges. With this method, parents avoid any and all interaction and possibility of communication, and involves the child(ren) walking from the car door of the drop off parent to the car door of the retrieving parent, to keep everyone on their best behavior. This is the most child focused method for the child(ren), period. If the child is too young to walk, a third party should effectuate the same curbside exchange until the child can walk between the two vehicles.
As a guide to holiday custody planning, parties can use California Judicial Counsel Form FL-341(c) http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl341c.pdf ). There are many variations on the holidays, depending on the traditions of the respective parties. This is purely a guide for example purposes and should be altered as necessary to fit a family’s particular customs/religion(s), holiday.
Lawyer’s perspective: I like to focus on the children and in doing so think alternating holidays on a yearly basis is most child focused. For example, many like to exchange on Christmas right after the presents have been opened, without regard for the fact the child has had no time to play with the gifts, nor can they take them to the other parent’s home. This results in pure frustration for the child. The alternative is that each year parents alternate the whole holiday or make the exchange time one that is focused on the children and not the convenience of the parents.
How far in advance do I need to file a Request for Order (RFO) with the Court for a vacation schedule?
It is important to file right away if the parties cannot agree in a writing to be submitted to the Court. The Court does not consider failure of the parties to plan appropriately a basis for an emergency request for custody. Time and time again I have witnessed parties trying to obtain emergency travel orders for the holidays and the Courts retort with “these holidays happen every year” so there is nothing exigent to justify relief. It takes approximately 6 weeks to get a hearing date once an RFO is filed, which of course must be properly served.
The alternative is that each year parents alternate the whole holiday or make the exchange time one that is focused on the children and not the convenience of the parents.
What if we reach an agreement for the holidays before the hearing date?
Once a party has filed an RFO in Los Angeles County (and many others), the parties will be ordered to participate in child custody mediation with Family Court Services. If an agreement is reached prior to the hearing, and prior to a Response being filed, a party can withdraw their Motion or submit a Stipulation/Order prior to the time of the hearing. However, if a party fails to file the RFO in time, they foreclose any remedy to settle a custody dispute. That results in the child’s Holidays being consumed with the disappointment of his/her parents instead of the indulgences of festivities in the Winter holidays.