Holiday parent-time is often a source of serious disagreement between parents. This contention frequently leads to other problems. When a parent has holiday plans and the other parent interferes with those plans, the distrust between co-parents only grows. Children are often aware of their parents’ disagreements over holiday time, and this kind of exposure to conflict harms children’s emotional health. Navigating a co-parenting relationship is hard enough, but it’s immensely more difficult when parents live in uncertainty and conflict. To help solve this problem in regards to Utah holiday parent-time in a divorce or custody situation, parents must (1) create a clear, certain, and firm holiday schedule in their court orders; (2) understand their own holiday schedule, if they already have a court order; (3) assert their rights and hold the other parent accountable if they are interfering with holiday time.
Parents need to create a clear and firm holiday schedule
Utah law provides a holiday schedule that splits major holidays between parents and sets forth when parents should exchange the children for those holidays. It provides that one parent will get the children for certain holidays in even-numbered years and other holidays in odd-numbered years.
While this schedule is very helpful and is used by most attorneys as the foundation of parents’ holiday schedules, it isn’t perfect. This holiday schedule is a one-size-fits-all schedule and doesn’t address the unique needs of individual families. Many religious holidays, the parents’ birthdays, allowance for a more flexible schedule during the summer, and many lesser-celebrated holidays are not included in this schedule.
Also, some families have traditions they want to protect. When this is the case, parents can negotiate with each other so that, for example, one party gets Halloween every year and in exchange, the other parent will get July 4 every year. The point is, court orders can be tailored to parents’ individual circumstances. The state statute also provides that mothers get the children on Mother’s Day, fathers get the children on Father’s Day, and provides a basic outline for how much time parents have the children during the summer. It also provides what times the parents should exchange the children.
Whatever the holiday schedule may be, parents must make sure that their court orders are unmistakably clear as to: (1) which parent gets certain holidays; (2) what time the parent gets the children; (3) what time the children must be returned to the other parent.
Can parents just take the children for half of the day every holiday?
We generally don’t recommend splitting the actual holiday between parents (i.e. one parent gets the first half of Christmas and the other parent gets the second half). We find that splitting the actual holiday satisfies the emotional needs of the parents but not the children.
Being taken from one family’s holiday celebration to attend another can prevent children from being fully immersed in the family-holiday-bonding experience, take them away from family parties at the height of their enjoyment, and result in children developing negative feelings towards holidays in general because of the back-and-forth they have to endure. Splitting time on the actual holiday can also limit what kind of celebrations parents can plan or where those celebrations take place.
Parents must understand their own holiday schedule
Most parents’ court orders will cite § 30-3-35 of the Utah Code for the holiday schedule. If that’s the case, parents need to read that law carefully and seek answers from an attorney if they have questions. We often come across court orders where specific arrangements are made for summer parent-time (i.e. the parents rotate the children every other week during the summer) and exceptions are created for certain holidays. To minimize contention between parents and avoid problems, both parents need to thoroughly read and understand their holiday schedule and any law that is referenced in it.
How to enforce the holiday schedule
First, let the other parent know in advance when you’re planning to pick the children up for holiday time. If the other parent refuses, you still have time to problem-solve before the holiday arrives. Second, follow your court orders exactly. Make sure you understand exactly when you can have the children for the holiday and when you have to return them. Third, if the other parent refuses your holiday parent-time, have your attorney send the other parent (or their attorney, if they have one) an email or letter explaining the situation.
Oftentimes attorneys can work out the holiday schedule by reviewing the law. Lastly, if the other parent still refuses, you will need to file a motion with the court to hold them in contempt (called a Motion to Enforce Order, previously known as a Motion for Order to Show Cause). A parent that is found in contempt for violating the holiday schedule may: (1) have to pay your attorney fees; (2) be fined or sanctioned; (3) be forced to provide you make-up time on other holidays; (4) in the worst cases, usually for repeated offenses, the parent can be put in jail.
If you need help creating a holiday schedule that fits your circumstances, understanding your current holiday schedule, or changing it altogether, please reach out to our Utah divorce attorneys at Red Law, as we have handled cases like these hundreds of times.