The holidays are quickly approaching. A walk down the aisles of your favorite retailer surely has reminded you – the Halloween costumes and candy are being packed up, replaced by paper turkeys and cornucopias, then rows of green Christmas trees and aisles filled with toys. In the rush of holiday preparations, you‣ve shopped for gifts and sent out cards with the annual update letter, you‣ve planned the holiday party schedule and menu for the family dinner. Everything is under control…until your ex spouse calls to find out what time your son and daughter will be ready to go for the holiday weekend.
In the disagreement that ensues, you pull out your custody orders and realize that there were no provisions made for Thanksgiving, Chanukah, or Christmas (or vacations and other special times throughout the year). You just assumed the holiday would be with you – after all, it‣s tradition…holidays were always spent with your side of the family when you were married. But your ex figured you‣d stick to the regular timeshare schedule.
This is not an uncommon scenario. In the week before the major holidays and school vacations, family law courtrooms are jammed with countless “emergency” hearing requests. But parties who make an unannounced appearance at 8:30 a.m. on December 23 are putting themselves in peril. Last minute holiday or vacation plans are not emergencies under California law. The court has discretion to decline these requests, and often will. Unless there are special circumstances, one can expect to hear the judicial officer ask, “And how long have you known Christmas is on December 25?” Then the regular timesharing schedule stands, and the court sets a hearing date for after the holidays to make an alternative schedule.
You can avoid this unhappy surprise by knowing what the custody orders say well in advance. Talk with the other parent to determine whether you have any differences. And do this with enough time to know whether you‣ll need to go to custody mediation or court for help working out the schedule – it may take up to eight weeks to get your mandatory custody mediation appointment or hearing date. Address this right away, and with the proper planning you can head into the holiday season confident about making plans that will include your child.