Child custody is usually one of the most emotional and heart-rendering aspects that come up in family law. Holiday visitation schedules can become a flashpoint for conflict. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The state of Florida offers flexibility to parents, and each county has guidelines. Even if the parents can’t come to a mutual agreement, Duval County has rules that protect the rights of both parents and guidelines that will hopefully help minimize conflict moving forward.
Presuming that the parents live in the same general area (within 150 miles), the non-custodial parent has the following rights:
- Christmas works on an alternating schedule. In odd-numbered years, the non-custodial parent gets the kids on Christmas afternoon starting at 1 PM. This period stretches to the final day of the holiday school break when the children must be home at 6 PM. In even-numbered years, the non-custodial parent gets the front end of the holiday break--from the time school lets out until 1 PM on Christmas Day.
Of course, there are a lot of people who do not celebrate Christmas but do have other winter traditions. A prime example would be the eight nights of Hanukkah. These can be divided equally each year. Holidays that fall on a single day can be alternated every other year.
- Thanksgiving in odd-numbered years, beginning on Wednesday when school lets out and going until 6 PM on Sunday night.
- Spring break in odd-numbered years, beginning when school lets out and concluding at 6 PM the day before school resumes.
- The kids’ birthdays in even-numbered years.
- Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are reserved for the appropriate parent every year.
Summer vacation has the parents trading off week by week, with the non-custodial parent getting the first week after school gets out. The caveat is that each parent does get the opportunity for two consecutive weeks at some point during the summer, for the purpose of a vacation. If there is conflict around timing, the mother will have priority in odd-numbered years, the father in even-numbered years. Regardless of how the rotation falls, it is expected that Father’s Day, which falls during this time period, will still be reserved for dad.
Modifications can be made when the non-custodial parent lives more than 150 miles away. The kids celebrate all birthdays at their regular home. But on the flip side, the non-custodial parent gets Spring Break every year.
Finding the Best Solution
What’s above is simply a legal default option in the event that couples cannot come to an agreement. Duval County strongly encourages parents to work together to find the solution that works best for their particular family. To that end, the county asks that couples strive for the following ideals:
Respect each other: An unfortunate number of these situations have bad blood between the parents. If that’s the case in your family, work hard to respect the other parent at least verbally in front of the kids. The last thing your children need is to hear their parents complaining about how the other one handles the holidays. These are opportunities for better memories, which is more likely to happen when there’s mutual respect between the parents.
Involve the extended family: Your children need their identity and that comes from knowing both sides of their family. That means knowing the grandparents, aunts, and uncles on both sides. This will take a lot of effort, especially for the relatives on the non-custodial side. But it will be worth it for the kids, and the holiday custody schedule is a great way to take that into consideration.
Security & peace: Children who hear their parents fight often struggle to adjust, both as youth and later in life. This is true for kids whose parents are under the same roof and its certainly true for those whose parents are living separately. Working with the other parent in true collaboration can enhance your children’s sense of security and peace. This makes it more likely that they can succeed in school, extracurricular activities and moving forward in life.
Be flexible: This is a big one, and something that can be hard, but as kids grow older and become involved in more activities, it’s not always easy to adhere to the holiday custody schedules that worked so well when they were young.
Let’s say the father is the non-custodial parent and is looking forward to Christmas at 1 PM when he’ll pick up his 17-year-old daughter. But the girl is excelling in basketball and the school team has a three-day tournament starting on the 28th. It’s in another state and both sides of the family are looking forward to watching her compete. This isn’t the place for the father to draw a hard and fast line about his time. On the flip side, his daughter will want to remember that dad willingly shared some of his legally entitled time to support her game.
Raising children is complicated and we know that parents who live separately face unique challenges. The best way to work out a solution is to draft a holiday custody plan that takes into consideration each family’s unique situation. Maybe one parent values Thanksgiving more than the other. Maybe the other parent would be more interested in the Fourth of July. These kinds of trade-offs can be made. Duval County issues minimum guidelines, but the preferred choice is always for parents to work together and craft their own custom-made solutions.
That’s where good legal counsel can help. The Law Offices of Jason K.S. Porter, P.A has experienced attorneys in family law. We’ve seen more than our share of situations like this and can bring creative solutions to the table. We understand that a strong and principled advocacy for your rights goes hand-in-hand with reaching the peaceful solution your children need and deserve. Contact us today, either here online or by phone at (904) 701-0591. We’d be happy to set up a Zoom conference and talk about how we can help.