HOLIDAY VISITATION ISSUES  

By: Steven Pradell, Esq.

The holidays are fast approaching. December is perhaps the most frantic time of the year in family law courts. Last minute emergency motions over holiday visitation issues flood the court dockets. Parents who live in separate states must hastily arrange flight schedules and purchase tickets, often at full fare by the time the issues are resolved. While some problems are unavoidable, parents who wait until the last minute to ask the court for relief can spend large sums on lawyers who are already busy attempting to resolve these issues for other families, and, if decisions are not obtained in time, may lose out altogether on seeing their children during the holidays.

There are steps that parents can take to avoid these last minute difficulties. A custody decree should specify with clarity when visitation begins, when it ends, and the manner and method of the transfer of the children from home to home.

Parents who live far from one another must determine who will pay for transportation costs, and a custody Order should specify how travel costs will be allocated. If children are young, a chaperone may be required to fly with the child during visitation exchanges. The custodial parent should have time at the beginning and end of the holiday to allow for a smooth transition to take place and to prepare the child for the start of school. Each parent provide the other with an itinerary of intended holiday plans, and contact numbers and addresses so that the non-visiting parent may stay in touch with the children throughout the visitation period. If a custody order is clear, tickets should be purchased in far enough in advance to insure that seats are available on flights which correspond to the visitation schedule and so that appropriate discounts. Copies of tickets and itineraries should be provided to the other parent in advance so that it is clear when the children should be dropped off and picked up at the airport. If a custody order has any gray areas which may pose problems, either get the order clarified or attempt to secure consent well in advance in writing from the other parent as to these specifics so that there is no misunderstanding.

A parent may become apprehensive about allowing the other parent to have court ordered holiday visitation. To modify visitation, a parent must normally show that a change of circumstances has occurred and that modifying visitation is in the best interests of a child. The proper procedure is to discuss your concerns with an attorney before the visitation period begins, so that you can determine whether it is wise to ask a court for a modification prior to the start of the visitation.

Custodial parents may fear that the other parent will take the child outside of the state at the start of holiday visitation in an attempt to begin a new custody proceeding in another state to try to modify custody. However, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act and the Parental Kidnap Prevention Act are laws which are designed to prevent parents from doing this. Parents who abduct children and travel interstate may be subject to both state and federal criminal penalties.

If you are a parent undergoing a case involving custody, or if you desire to change an existing visitation schedule, it may be wise to discuss your options with a lawyer.

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This article was authored by Steven Pradell, Esq. with offices in Anchorage, Alaska. He is also the owner of Pradell and Associates and Abracadabra Entertainment. This article is not intended to provide legal advice and should not be relied on for that purpose. Phone: (907) 279-4529. Email address: pradell@alaska.net. Reprinted with permission of Steven Pradell. Copyrighted by Steven Pradell.