On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Divorce, Child Custody, Visitation, and Contempt and Family Access on Tuesday August 27, 2013

Parenting Plans, in theory, should be designed clearly and operate simply and unambiguously so as to minimize confusion and conflict and maximize frequent and meaningful time with both parents.  However, holidays can  prove to be an exception to the rule.

This weekend is Labor Day, one of the holidays recognized by Missouri statute to be included in a Parenting Plan.  In nearly all Parenting Plans, holidays alternate in odd and even years, and they are divided in equal categories so that the holiday time in each year is evenly divided between the parents.

Suppose this weekend, Labor Day weekend, is both your weekend (you have every other weekend) and also your holiday (you have Labor Day in odd numbered years).  In that situation, no conflict between the holiday and your own physical custody time exists, so no real problem.

Now suppose this weekend is not your weekend through the alternate weekend custody but it is your weekend under the holiday schedule.  The Parenting Plan states that holidays take precedence over the regular weekend schedule, so you would have Labor Day weekend, which means you would have two consecutive weekends of custody.

At this point, the other parent feels concerned about feeling shorted time by the custody schedule.  If the parents continue to follow the alternating weekend schedule, the Labor Day parent will have three consecutive weekends.  What happens in this situation?

This is where we see several responses to this problem in Parenting Plans.  The best solution is when the Parenting Plan specifically addresses the scenario by stating that no parent shall have more than two consecutive weekends, which would require rebooting the alternate weekends.  For example, in St. Charles County the Parenting Plans have this language:  “If either parent’s holiday weekend…conflicts herewith then the parent’s regular weekend shall be replaced with the other parent’s next regular weekend to thereafter be followed by the original schedule so that each parent has two consecutive weekends.”

Other Parenting Plans fail to address the situation at all, which leaves the parents potentially fighting over three consecutive weekends.  In that situation, we note that the calendar often works itself out, in that one three day weekend that throws off the alternate weekends gets made up by another three day weekend that causes the same effect.  If the parents cannot agree to limit themselves to no more than two consecutive weekends, and use on their own a makeup plan like that in St. Charles County, the parents can either let the calendar balance it out eventually or, as we noted in an earlier post, file a Family Access Motion with the court so that compensatory time may be awarded.  The parties could even seek a modification of the Parenting Plan to permanently fix this problem.

Holidays should be fun for all involved.  It can be painful to the child and the parent when a holiday is not shared, a pain that should not be compounded by both the child and the parent feeling deprived of custodial time.  Parents should insist on clear language in their Parenting Plans at the time of the custody dispute to prevent loss of time or lack of frequent and meaningful contact.

If you have questions about holiday times and Parenting Plans, contact our St. Louis family law attorneys – we can help.