Must a Judge Order Holiday Time Sharing?

A recent case from the Second District Court of Appeals addressed whether it is mandatory to include holiday time sharing in a court ordered parenting plan. In Mills v. Mills, the trial court did not order holiday time sharing when it entered a parenting plan for the parties. The appellate court found that to be clear error. The appellate court stated,

Where visitation is ordered, the non-custodial parent's right to the child on rotating holidays has become so routine and necessary that to deny it requires factual findings justifying that decision.

There was no factual findings to justify the trial court's denial of holiday time sharing. In fact, the trial court found that the parties have a very contentious parenting relationship. The appellate court found that, given this contentious relationship, it would be particularly imperative for the trial court to recommend a holiday time sharing schedule. The appellate court overturned the trial court's parenting plan and directed the trial court to enter a plan that has a holiday time sharing schedule. They reasoned that the parents were not capable of working out a holiday schedule amongst themselves because of their prior relationship problems.

Holiday time sharing schedules in divorce or paternity cases vary from case to case, but most of them hold a general premises that the holidays should be shared equally by both parents. The major holidays that are almost always addressed in a parenting plan are summer, spring break, thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays. Other holidays such as the 4 th of July, Labor Day and Memorial Day Weekends and Halloween may also be addressed.

Most parenting plans have the parties rotate the entire holiday each year. For example, if the Father had the entire thanksgiving break in one year, then the Mother would have the entire thanksgiving break the next year. On occasion, some parents prefer to split the holiday equally every year, which would require an exchange of the children during the middle of the holiday.

It is our recommendation that you have a very specified holiday time sharing schedule to avoid any last minute issues that may arise from failure to properly determine when your holiday time sharing actually begins. This could have consequences that could affect travel plans, flights, etc. An expert family law attorney should draft your parenting plan, paying particular attention to the specific details that are in the best interest of your family and which holidays are important to you.