How to Modify Your Custody Agreement for the Holidays

A custody agreement is a roadmap that clarifies when you will have your children and when the other parent will have them. Custody agreements protect both parents while providing a framework to take to court if it becomes necessary. Custody agreements specify who the children will live with primarily, whether the time is split 50/50, or whether it is five days with one parent and then two days with the other before it flips in a 14-day cycle, amongst other details. At a minimum, barring agreement between the parties, a custody agreement provides a default for how visitation will be handled, including how weekends and holidays will be handled. 

During the holidays, the attorneys at Hynum Law, receive calls and emails from clients who are facing various challenges related to child custody. Sometimes, the attorneys see clients who are bogged down in the minutia who send 15 to 20 emails back and forth fighting with one another.  Other times there are challenges with pick up and drop off times. Still, others involve disputes over what the children have asked Santa to bring. One parent wants to avoid duplication; the other wants to avoid communication. These challenges create a lot of stress for everyone involved.

Hynum Law encourages clients to look at the bigger picture and reminds those impacted by custody agreements that whatever challenges they are facing right now will most likely not last year after year.  

The attorneys at Hynum Law stress to their clients that it is advisable to make sacrifices for the sake of the children and that not everything has to be a battle. The goal should be to put the best interests of the children first and try to make the children’s holiday less disruptive than it could be under the circumstances. After all, clients are much better off trying to work on it together because once a judge is asked to make the decision it is out of the parents’ control.  

How to Find Middle Ground in Custody Agreements

First, think about the children and put aside your animosity aside for the other party. The hope is that each parent will get as good as they give.

Second, be flexible. There are numerous opportunities for compromise.  For example, some families have a big meal on Thanksgiving Day; others do it the weekend before or after when they are having guests come in from out of town. These are opportunities for compromise.

After considering the areas where you can and are willing to be flexible, communicate with the other parent and try to find common ground rather than butting heads.  Communication between parents is admittedly not always possible.  But it is almost always preferable to going to court.  If you come to an agreement on something small, like changing the times for drop off and pick up, or even the days, and if you have trust in one another, consider it an achievement.  If there is some apprehension, consider sending the other parent an email or a text rather than a phone call.

Third, call your attorney for help when necessary.  Oftentimes parties have trouble communicating and the attorney’s goal is to help you find middle ground.  An attorney may point out that some families prefer to eat at noon; whereas others prefer an evening meal.  It may be helpful to have the children dine with the family who eats first and then switch in the middle of the day, so the children can enjoy meals at two places.  If one parent will have the children from after work on Wednesday until midafternoon on Thanksgiving; then switching custody midafternoon on Thanksgiving until midafternoon the next day might be a way to reach common ground.

Finally, remember that sometimes parties are hard-headed, unreasonable, uncooperative or may just be going through their own personal turmoil and stress.  The custody agreement is there as a protection in case the parties cannot agree, in which case it serves as a default arrangement.  Alternatively, so long as both parties are in agreement, there are ample opportunities to do what is best for the children and for families, even if it deviates from the written custody document.