Jonathan Marks, STL Moms: Christmas Custody Issues

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Margie: From pictures with Santa to opening gifts on Christmas morning, the holidays are filled with friends and family. But for other children and their parents, it can take a turn to disappointment and frustration, all because of divorce. Jonathan Marks with The Marks Law Firm is here this morning with some helpful holiday solutions for you. Good morning.

JM: Good morning, Margie.

Margie: So, what’s the best way to handle custody over winter break?

JM: The best solution for the children involved is really to take a look at what were the family traditions, and how did the children usually celebrate prior to the divorce or separation of their parents. If they are unable to do so, typically a court is going to try to figure out a way to balance the equities between the two parents, which normally result in either splitting winter break directly in half, or someone would have the first half of winter break, divide it up at some point in time, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the other parent having the remainder of the time until the return to school. And then sometimes we divide it up into thirds, where somebody has the first third of winter break leading up to Christmas, the middle portion of winter break and then switching back to the original first parent that had that first half of the winter break, up until the return to school.

Margie: Is it a little more difficult if one of those parents lives out of town?

JM: Yes, it makes it a lot more complicated, and normally the court is going to try to figure out a way to balance the equities and provide the out-of-town parent with more time because of the fact that they haven’t exercised as much time during the normal traditional school year. Sometimes what happens is they just give the entire winter break, and unfortunately one parent is left out. If not, typically the local parent is really only going to receive limited time, maybe up to Christmas day and do a Christmas exchange through the rest of the winter break holiday.

Margie: December is filled with a lot of religious holidays. What if the parents have different religions?

JM: Yes, that makes it a little more difficult. So at the time of the divorce you really have to take a look at what were those family religious traditions. Not just if somebody is Christian or Jewish, but also even if somebody is of a different sect or traditionally celebrates Christmas in a different manner. So trying to really explore with your client, figuring out specifically, what makes sense or how the traditions are done in the household and trying to meet those expectations on a yearly basis makes sense, and a parent who really has a deep religious belief is going to want to prioritize that when negotiating out a parenting plan.

Margie: And this is something that courts do not get involved in?

JM: Well, they do. I mean, if somebody is unable to negotiate a parenting plan or reach a settlement with their spouse or the other parent. The way to really figure it out is to try to collaboratively do that. But if they’re unable to and it results in a trial, the court is going to hear the evidence and make a determination of what they believe is in the family’s best interest. But traditionally, most courts, as their course of equity in the family court, are just going to divide that time in half.

Margie: Right. Which would be fair, I guess, for both parents at that point.

JM: Sure. I mean, you have to always remember there is a separation of church and state, so you can’t really get too involved from that religious perspective.

Margie: All right. Jonathan Marks with The Marks Law Firm. Thank you, I appreciate your time this morning.

JM: Thank you, Margie.

Margie: For more information on The Marks Law Firm just head to the STL Moms tab.

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