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Managing Complex Parenting Plans During the Holiday Season This Year

Parenting plans and holiday schedules can get extremely complicated for divorced parents with minor children, especially when unexpected events occur. In particular, this year’s holiday season might look substantially different from others given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While some parents might have had plans to travel with their children to visit friends or family members out of state, those plans could be on hold. For some kids who primarily reside with one parent in Northern Virginia and typically spend the holidays with the other parent who resides on the West Coast, holiday travel might not be as safe as you expected. Or, for example, you might be concerned about the other parent’s attitude toward public health, and whether it could put your child at risk this holiday season. And even if the COVID-19 pandemic does not disrupt your holiday parenting plan, other unexpected issues can arise, and it is important to try to remain calm and flexible. The following are some tips for managing complex child custody schedules during the holiday season this year.

Try to Remain Flexible, and Communicate with the Other Parent

When parenting plans and child custody are determined after a divorce (Code of Va. § 20-124.2), those parenting plans will likely have a specific schedule outlined for the holidays. You may have agreed in advance with your ex-spouse that you will split the holiday season evenly, for example, or that every other year the children will spend the holidays with you. Regardless of the arrangement that was entered, complications can arise. As such, it is important to try to remain flexible if you can. For example, your child might get sick and may not be able to travel, or a winter storm might make it difficult or dangerous to transport your child to your ex-spouse’s home on Christmas Eve (or vice versa).

If you are in reasonable communication with the other parent, such issues might not cause a serious problem. You may be able to work out a solution without needing to involve the courts.

Plan Ahead for Gift Giving

An article in Forbes emphasizes that co-parenting can be especially difficult during the holidays, but if you discuss gift plans with your ex to ensure that you do not duplicate gifts for your child, the holiday season can be less contentious. You might even consider giving your child gifts from both parents in order to underscore that the divorce has not completely severed your family or your connections to one another.

Know That You May Be Able to Seek a Modification of Your Child Custody Order

If the other parent has indicated that she or he does not plan to abide by the child custody order this holiday season, or if you have particular concerns about your child’s travel or the other parent’s COVID-19 safety, you may be able to request a modification from the court. Under Virginia’s child custody modification law (Code of Va. § 20-108), for the court to modify an existing child custody order, you must be able to prove a “material change of circumstances justifying a change of custody.”

During the holidays, a temporary issue like travel safety likely will not be sufficient to modify child custody. Many courts across the country have denied requests to modify custody simply because the parent had concerns about the child’s exposure to COVID-19 when traveling to see the other parent. However, if the child’s other parent is not taking COVID-19 risks seriously and could be putting the child at risk, such circumstances could be a reason to seek a modification if your child is currently on schedule to spend a large portion of the holiday season with that parent. There have been examples of courts that have denied custody to parents who refuse to wear masks when their children have underlying conditions that put them at risk of a severe infection.

Do Not Less the Stress of the Holidays Cloud Your Judgment

The holiday season is often a stressful time, regardless of what is happening with child custody. Try to avoid letting the stress of the holidays affect your judgment when it comes to your child’s best interests this holiday season.

Contact a Northern Virginia Child Custody Attorney

If you have questions about parenting plans and holiday schedules, you should seek advice from an experienced Northern Virginia child custody lawyer today. Contact Family Law Group to learn more about how our firm can assist you.