This is the time of year that many divorced parents begin to have problems with holiday parenting time. Often times, divorce decrees are ambiguous about holiday parenting time. A divorce decree might say that parenting time is “reasonable and liberal,” without saying anything about a specific parenting time schedule. Or a divorce decree might say that the parents have “alternating holidays” with the children, without stating specific holidays and without stating specific pick up and drop off times.
Many parents are able to cooperate and reach an informal agreement about parenting time. Many parents cannot. If your ex-spouse is difficult to cooperate with, you should begin thinking about holiday parenting time now. If the divorce decree is not specific about holiday parenting time and your ex-spouse is difficult to deal with, you should take the following steps:
1. Try to get an agreement in writing. This can include a series of e-mails back and forth that, when read together, confirm what you and your ex-spouse have agreed that the holiday parenting schedule will be. You can initiate this process by sending a written proposal by e-mail, asking that your ex-spouse either approve it or propose some reasonable changes. Eventually, many, if not most, parents can reach an agreement this way. The important thing is to have an agreement that is evidenced by a series of e-mails or other written form of communication.
2. If you cannot reach an agreement, you should propose in writing that you and your spouse obtain the services of a parenting time consultant. A parenting time consultant is a professional (usually a psychologist or an attorney) who will meet with you and your ex-spouse and try to work out a parenting time agreement. You have to pay for a parenting time consultant. It is important that you at least try to get your ex-spouse to go to a parenting time consultant, because if you cannot, the court will want to know this.
In my experience, either step 1 or steps 1 and 2 above usually work.
3. If steps 1 and 2 above do not work, you probably need to return to court. Depending upon the circumstances of your divorce, this could possibly be done without a formal hearing. Or, a formal hearing might be required. An experienced attorney might be able to resolve the issue in a telephone conference call with the judge and the attorney for your ex-spouse. Or, the attorney may need to schedule a brief court appearance.
Keep in mind that if you can show that you tried to act reasonably, that you sent a written request for a reasonable holiday parenting time schedule (I emphasize the word reasonable– you need to be fair) and that your ex-spouse declined, and that you then offered to try to resolve the matter out of court with a parenting time consultant, you have a reasonable claim for your attorney’s fees incurred in connection with the court appearance.
In Minnesota, attorney’s fees can be awarded to one spouse when the other spouse unreasonably contributes to the length or expense of a proceeding. This does not mean that attorney’s fees are always awarded, but the possibility that this can occur gives you some leverage in negotiating with your spouse.
As always, the law when applied to the specific facts of your situation can produce a different result. This blog is not intended as legal advice. It is best to consult with an attorney by telephone or in person to obtain a specific analysis of the law as it applies to your facts.