You and your child’s other parent might have holiday traditions you want to share with your child. While it’s easy to get caught up in visiting family, cooking or baking together, or enjoying other festive activities, it’s essential that you stay mindful of the holiday schedule in your custody order. Whether you and the other parent trade off on spending the holidays with your child by hours or years, a court-ordered arrangement is legally binding and must be complied with. If either of you willfully deviates from the agreement, you could be found in contempt, which could be penalized by jail, community service, and/or a fine.
Sticking to Your Holiday Custody Schedule
As part of your divorce or another family law matter, you and your child’s other parent may have gotten a court-issued custody order. The order may not only contain provisions about everyday parenting time arrangements but also schedules for the holidays.
A custody holiday schedule can be set up in several ways. For instance, you and the other parent may have your child:
- At specific times on certain holidays. For example, you and your child might spend time together from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Their other parent may have them from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.;
- Every year for specific holidays; or
- Every other year for certain holidays.
Once the court signs off on the schedule and makes it an order of the court, you must adhere to it as outlined.
Willful Noncompliance with a Holiday Custody Plan
When you have a holiday schedule as part of your custody arrangement, the plan is prioritized over your normal parenting time. Although the holiday provision may be part of your custody order, that does not guarantee that the other parent will follow it. They might willfully disregard it.
Willful noncompliance occurs when a parent is aware that a custody order is in place but chooses to ignore it. You might show that the other parent knew the holiday schedule by demonstrating that they were served a copy of it or were in court when the judge issued it. Additionally, you can show that the other parent deliberately decided not to adhere to the order by proving that they could comply (e.g., could have taken the child to the exchange location at the specified date and time).
The other parent’s willful noncompliance with a court order can significantly affect your child. Their actions result in lost quality time between you and your child. Noncompliance can also deprive your child of being around the family and traditions that make them who they are.
Contempt of Custody Agreement During the Holidays
A valid court-ordered custody agreement is enforceable. If your child’s other parent chooses not to stick to the holiday schedule, you have options to ensure that they comply.
One of the methods that can be used for enforcement is filing a contempt of court action, this should not be done for minor violations of the order. Sometimes you can just talk these matters out and compromise when appropriate to do so.
Contempt means that someone intentionally acted against the orders of the court.
To take legal action against the other parent, you must:
- File an Order to Show Cause for Contempt form,
- Have the other parent served with a copy of the document (this must be done by someone 18 years of age or older who is not a party to the case), and
- Attend a hearing.
A judge will listen to arguments from you and the other parent.
If they find the other parent in contempt, they may impose penalties that include:
- A fine of up to $1,000,
- Jail for up to 5 days, and/or
- Community service for up to 120 days.
Note that a verbal custody arrangement is not enforceable. If you and the other parent had agreed to a holiday schedule but never had the court approve/order it, you would not be able to take action if they didn’t follow it.
Speak to a Lawyer About Your Case
A clear and detailed custody order is necessary to ensure that both parents understand the time-sharing arrangements during the holidays. If you are considering filing a contempt action, seek the advice of a family law attorney. Working with a lawyer can make the process of enforcing noncompliance more manageable. They can assist in negotiating, modifying the current order to make it more applicable to your family situation, preparing forms, building your case, and presenting your arguments in court.
Recognizing the challenges parents face when trying to ensure that they get to spend time with their children during the holidays, I, Attorney Andrea Schneider, deliver sound legal counsel for child custody matters in La Mesa. Schedule a consultation with me by calling (619) 304-8499 or submitting an online contact form today.