Often during the holidays, family law lawyers receive calls from former or new clients who are struggling to work with the other parent around holiday scheduling. These challenges usually fall into one of two categories: (1) the parties’ parenting plan does not have specific provisions for sharing holidays; or (2) one parent is refusing to follow the schedule set forth in the parties’ court ordered parenting plan.
The first problem often occurs as a result of parties writing their own parenting plans without a lawyer’s assistance. When parents are getting along fairly well at the time of their divorce, they often assume they will continue to get along and be flexible with one another. Therefore, they may only include a provision in the parenting plan that requires the parents to “share holidays” or to “be flexible” or other general statements. But all too often, family traditions change, new partners join a family, or children begin to express their wishes more forcefully. Without a clear parenting plan, “sharing holidays” may no longer be as clear or as straightforward as parties once believed it to be. While parenting plans may always be modified to reflect the children’s best interests at the time, parties can limit their frustrations by preparing a clearly-written parenting plan at the outset. When our family law lawyers write parenting plans, we include detailed holiday and vacation plans. This includes defining each holiday’s starting and ending times (for example: Thanksgiving begins at the release of school on Wednesday and continues until Sunday at 7:00 p.m.). The parenting plan also outlines which parent will handle transportation of the children, when applicable.
The second problem occurs when the parties do have a clear parenting plan, but one party refuses to follow it for some reason. The parent attempting to follow the plan may ask the court for assistance in enforcing the parenting plan. However, this remedy is generally slow and the holiday will likely be over before the parties make it to court. (ORS 107.434 requires the court to hold a hearing no later than 45 days after the motion is filed.) While there is no immediate solution, a family law judge may “punish” the non-compliant parent by giving make-up parenting time to the first parent, imposing additional terms or conditions on the existing schedule, or changing the parenting plan going forward. The court may also order a parent to attend counseling or educational classes focusing on the impact of violation of parenting plans on children. Finally, the court may order attorney or court fees be paid by one party.
Parents often ask us if they should contact law enforcement when a parent is not returning a child when scheduled. In general terms, involving the police is not a good idea. Law enforcement generally will not assist parents in parenting disputes, and will instead refer parties to the court to deal with the situation as a civil matter. Even if the police are willing to intervene, it is generally very distressing for children to engage with law enforcement in this way. The courts expect parents to keep their children’s best interests at the forefront whenever making decisions about how to enforce a parenting plan. Exposing children to police-assisted exchanges can be frightening and stressful.
However, if a parent believes their child is in danger, a call to the police may be the only way to quickly address the situation. It is a good idea to speak with a family law lawyer prior to making that decision, to receive thoughtful guidance on this very emotional issue.
To schedule a review of your current parenting plan or for help drafting a parenting plan, contact one of our experienced family law lawyers for an appointment today.
by Jill Brittle