Lost Parenting Time Over the Holidays
The holiday season can be hectic and chaotic. Schedules are changed, and exceptions to normal schedules are often made. Most divorce agreements and parenting plans account for these changes and exceptions during the holiday season and for other exceptions, such as summer breaks and vacations taken throughout the year. These changes and exceptions are put into place to ensure that each parent, especially the non-custodial parent, has ample parenting time and the opportunity to spend additional time with the children when school is out of session.
Chaos and uncertain schedules do not excuse one parent from denying the other parent's legal right to parenting time.
Denying an ex-spouse their court-ordered parenting time is unacceptable. Denial of parenting time is equivalent to violating a court order and is a serious offense and may lead to a charge of contempt of court.
Repeated offenses of willfully denying court-ordered parenting time can lead to severe consequences, including fines, jail time, or a change to the overall custody and parenting time agreements.
The parent found in contempt of court may also be forced to pay court costs and attorney fees for the parent bringing the action.
The key to a successful post-divorce co-parenting situation is open communication. It is preferable that spouses and their attorneys work together during the divorce process to create a parenting plan that accounts for times during the year when regular schedules are not being followed. A thoroughly thought-out parenting plan will include plans for each parent to take the kids on vacation or spend extra time with them during school breaks and over the summer when school is out. There may also be provisions for times when a parent may be unable to meet their usual parenting time obligation due to a business trip, family emergency, or even a vacation taken without the children.
Once that parenting plan is agreed upon, if approved by the court, it becomes a legal court order that must be followed. Even though the parents came up with the plan, that does not give either parent the right to unilaterally change the plan or make any adjustments without the other parent's agreement. These modifications are then presented to the court, and if approved, the adjusted plan becomes the new court-ordered parenting plan.
Even if both parents do not agree, either parent can petition the court for a modification. It then becomes the responsibility of the court to decide whether the requested modification is reasonable and should be implemented based on a changed circumstance.
When there is open communication and the willingness to make adjustments, even potentially at the last minute, the parents can deal with lost or changed parenting time without bringing in attorneys and the courts.
When parents do not communicate, or when one parent takes advantage of the other, manipulating the situation to benefit their own desires, it may be necessary to bring in the attorneys and potentially even the courts to resolve the matter fairly for the best interest of the children.