Like the old song says, "there's no place like home for the holidays," but for children of divorced or separated the often question becomes "whose home for the holidays?"
Given that New Mexico law strongly favors joint legal custody and regular, well-defined periods of time-sharing for both parents, decisions must be made about how parents are going to share time with their children for the holidays.
And, given that the holidays can be a very stressful time, decisions about holiday time-sharing should be made well in advance of the actual holiday. Ideally, every Parenting Plan (the court document that details parents' rights and responsibilities with respect their children) should include a holiday schedule,
When there is not yet a parenting plan and the parents are still in the middle of a custody dispute or who have had a change in circumstances since the entry of their Parenting Plan, the parties must agree on where their children will spend the holidays or have the Court decide for them. This is rarely the best, and never the least stress approach to the problem.
Keep in mind that it can take weeks or months to get a hearing before the Court, so if parents aren't going to be able to agree on holiday time-sharing, they can't wait until the week before Christmas or Thanksgiving and expect to ask the Court to decide the issue for them.
In trying to reach an agreement about holiday time-sharing, or deciding what to ask for from the Court, parents should try to take a step back from the situation and really concentrate on what is in the best interests of their children.
No matter how their parents feel about each other, most children really want to spend time with both parents, especially for the holidays. For instance, children probably want to eat Thanksgiving turkey with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of the family, but they probably don't want to start one meal at 1:00 p.m. with one parent and then leave at 3:00 p.m. so that the other parent can rush to have the children at a Thanksgiving meal that starts at 4:00 p.m.
Similarly, children will likely want to open Christmas presents under the tree with both parents and they may wake up early to see what Santa brought them, but it is unlikely that, after waking up early, the children want to get dressed, packed and whisked away to the other parent's house by 8:00 a.m. because the other parent insists on having the children for most of Christmas Day.
To avoid the unnecessary stress on the children, parents may consider alternating holidays every year, i.e. one parent has the children for the whole day on Thanksgiving, or even the entirety of the children's Thanksgiving vacation in even years and the other parent has that time in odd years. Or, for Christmas, one parent may have the children from the beginning of the children's Christmas vacation to December 26th and the other parent has the children for the second half of Christmas vacation, including New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. These schedules would alternate each year.
These schedule suggestions may not be right for everyone, but they provide examples of how to focus on giving the children a fun and relaxing holiday, rather than forcing children to run around and feel pulled between parents.
There are many, many time-sharing options and, hopefully, parents can work together to find an agreement that they can live and that, most importantly, maximizes their children's happiness, enjoyment and well-being. An experienced family law attorney can not only advise parents about the law regarding time-sharing, but can be an integral part of finding creative ways to solve time-sharing disputes.