The holidays are traditionally a time for family, but in today’s world that is less concrete than in the past. You have your found family for one thing and the legal ties on top of the blood ties that keep you to your family. It’s important to remember that there are family law issues to think about even during the holidays. Family disputes during the holidays are a given, but they tend to ramp up when legalities are involved. Take a look at our guide to understanding family law and how to keep you and your loved ones protected and at least keep the arguments to who gets the last roast potato.
Custody disputes often ramp up around the holidays
As holidays are times for family gatherings, disagreements over family law issues like custody schedules and who the children will spend holidays with tend to increase. Remember that Christmas isn’t just a day anymore and that compromising is needed to ensure that your children don’t have a Christmas season full of arguments. Navigating breaks, parties, travelling and the day Santa physically lands will take some careful planning and communication.
Consider hiring a mediator. It’s much less expensive than going through lengthy court proceedings and will be an unbiased voice to help solve family law disputes.
Divorce filings tend to spike in January
While stress and family tensions come to a head over the holidays, many wait until after the holidays to file for divorce not wanting to disrupt holiday plans and traditions. It’s not nice to think about but January sees a consistent uptick in divorce filings. According to the BBC, this spike is as much as 150%. It is speculated that this is due to tensions coming to a head over the holidays or parties simply attempting to keep the peace until January comes.
Experts say that you should take a breath, however. Introspect thoughtfully and don’t rush into a decision based on something that happened over the holidays when tension is high and it’s tradition to drink too much. Discuss your needs with your partner clearly and if you don’t see a way forward, consult a solicitor to discuss the next steps, including child custody, child support, and dividing assets.
Remember your childcare responsibilities
It’s worth mentioning that child custody agreements still stand. Any existing child custody arrangements mandated by a court must still be followed during holiday times. Failure to comply could result in contempt charges or penalties. Additionally, child support continues over the holidays. Unless otherwise expressly stated, mandated child support payments cannot be withheld or end during extended holiday visits or vacations with the child. Also, remember that family law says that travel plans may require consent from your co-parent. Depending on agreements, out-of-state or overseas Christmas travel with children may legally require the consent of both parents beforehand.
If issues arise around holiday custody arrangements, specialized family law mediators are available to help reconcile disputes between estranged parties.
Holiday visitation rights for grandparents
There are also the in-laws to think about. The holidays are times grandparents often seek defined access rights and they may want visitation if their own child divorces and their ex-in-law gets primary custody. English and Welsh family law sees grandparents having no automatic legal visitation rights for the holidays, however, they can attempt to gain access with a court order, especially if there has already been a close relationship with grandchildren. If parents refuse visitation, grandparents have legal standing to sue for access – but the case details matter regarding whether courts override parental decisions.
Things to remember:
- Be reasonable and collaborative to avoid court intervention. It’s easy for a small disagreement to escalate.
- Mediation can help create balanced holiday custody schedules. Contact a mediator to settle conflicts that simply won’t be solved.
- Adjust agreements as children age and share input on holiday plans. Understand that as the children age, they also get a say.
- Communicate respectfully with co-parents well in advance about holiday plans. The key there being “respectfully”.
- Document agreed upon holiday custody arrangements.
In all of these instances, you’d benefit from hiring a mediator. Not only are they an unbiased and more affordable means of handling family law disputes, but the flexibility and emphasis on conflict resolution makes mediation very well suited for creating durable solutions for parents and children.