“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” unless …

You are fighting over holiday time-sharing

If you are a divorced Florida parent at odds with your child’s other parent over who will be with the child during the holidays – and how you will handle all the attendant logistical details – you may not know where to turn. This is especially problematic if you and your ex are in an adversarial relationship.

Florida courts give some guidance.

What does the divorce decree say about holidays?

First, the final divorce order controls where kids spend holidays.

When you divorced, you may have negotiated a parenting plan that should have included time-sharing (known historically as visitation) schedules, including how you will split special days like holidays, birthdays and school breaks. The judge must approve a negotiated plan and would have incorporated it into the final divorce decree, which is an official court order.

If parties cannot agree on holiday time-sharing, the court has discretion to establish the schedule and arrangements, but it must be in the child’s best interests and reasonable. For example, in one case, a Florida appeals court said that the trial court abused its discretion when it ordered an unreasonable arrangement that required a young child to frequently fly between parental homes in different states.

It is almost certain that your final parenting plan addressed holiday time. For example, in Aranda v. Padilla, a 2017 case in the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District, the court said holiday time-sharing is a parental right that “has become so routine and necessary” that to deny it, the court must make findings of fact that would justify the restriction.

If a parent’s behavior around their children does not hurt the kids’ welfare, it would likely be difficult to persuade a court to deny holiday time-sharing to that parent.

What if we disagree about the meaning of the parenting plan or I want to change it?

If you and your ex are arguing about the holiday provisions of your plan, keep in mind that Florida courts say that if there are ambiguous provisions, they should be interpreted with the child’s best interests in mind. 

It is possible that the official time-sharing arrangement is silent or ambiguous on an issue related to a holiday schedule. The parties can try to negotiate an interpretation that they agree on, with the assistance of their attorneys if necessary. If they cannot agree, they can ask the court to interpret, enforce or modify the time-sharing provisions.

Modifications require that the court find there has been a “substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances” and it must be in the best interest of the children involved.

If your holiday dispute about which parental celebrations the kids will attend, where they will stay, when they will arrive and who will transport them that cannot be reasonably resolved within the terms of the divorce decree in the children’s best interests, talk to an attorney immediately to understand your options. You must take care not to violate any court orders while balancing your children’s best interests and keeping the holidays special for them. A lawyer can advise you about your options for resolving these issues so that future holidays can be just about the season.

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
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