People often ask if family law has a cycle, like other businesses. The answer is, of course. Family law is not just about divorce it is also about children and the life of a family. If you think about a year, the family has cycles. Begin with the month of September when children return to school. Then, you have the Jewish High Holidays, Thanksgiving, Winter Break, Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza and the New Year. Then before you can recover from all of those events, the family faces Spring Break, Easter/Passover, and then summer break. With that cycle comes a lot of custodial planning for a divorced or separated family – planning which must take place much further in advance than for an intact family.
Planning the Year
Unless a custodial schedule addresses these events in detail without any need for modification, the upcoming holidays and vacation periods must be considered months in advance. This is because of all the potential details to be decided: securing agreements with the other parent, making travel arrangements (hotels, airline tickets, etc) and planning for the possibility of a dispute that may need court intervention. Waiting to the last minute is not an option and you cannot expect to receive emergency attention from a judge about a holiday or vacation which is on the calendar every year. Therefore, following these tips may help in the planning process, whether that planning process involves the need to go to court or not.
- Communicate in writing (email is fine) to the other parent the details of the dates and times you wish to spend with the children during a particular holiday or vacation period. Do this at least 60 days before the vacation or holiday period begins, and even earlier is better.
- Be fair in the dates you select so that the holidays and vacation periods are equitably shared.
- Ask the other parent to respond in writing within 7 days to your proposed dates and times.
- If you need to purchase airline tickets, consider purchasing refundable tickets. This will ensure you have tickets during typically high travel times if you can obtain the agreement or court order to travel on your desired dates and times; and if not, you will be able to obtain a refund or change the itinerary of the tickets.
- If a dispute arises about a proposed or existing schedule, immediately file a request with the court for a hearing date to establish a holiday or vacation schedule or to resolve the specific dispute you and the other parent may be having about an existing schedule. Courts are very busy and it takes time to obtain your day in court. You must start early to secure a hearing date.
- Immediately set your matter for a mediation date, either with a private mediator or with a mediator at the courthouse. If possible, schedule this before any court date, because mediation is typically a prerequisite to having a judge hear your matter.
- Once you obtain a hearing date, you and the other parent can continue to negotiate between yourselves or with a mediator. If an agreement is in fact reached prior to the court date, the agreement must be documented in writing and filed with the court so that you have a court order in place. The proposed hearing can then be removed from the court’s calendar.
Key to Success
Addressing these issues far in advance is the key to success. Family law practices are often very busy 60-90 days before major holidays and vacation periods and are therefore cyclical just like a family’s calendar. That can make it harder to schedule time with your lawyer during a busy period. Waiting to the last minute will cause you and your children great stress and will lessen the likelihood of success. Now that the kids are back in school, please start thinking about the holidays.