High Conflict Custody Cases and the Holidays

The holidays are upon us and if there are children in the picture, then there are a few points to consider especially in high-conflict custody cases:

1. Comply with your court orders (if you have orders currently in place) to make sure that there are no last minute changes by either parent that can ruin pre-arranged or prior thought-out plans. If you are not able to communicate and work things out informally with the other parent (oftentimes in high conflict cases) then make sure that you and the other parent comply with all court orders. Remember, there are certain personality types that are just incapable of working things out informally (or that may be the case in certain high conflict cases where emotions run high) so to avoid issues and headaches down the road, make sure that any changes (and try NOT to veer away from the court orders in the first place) are in writing. Despite the fact that your written changes to court orders (i.e. emails, texts, etc.) are agreed upon by you and the other parent, keep in mind that those changes may be unenforceable if authorities are called because of noncompliance by one parent with such “agreements.” The better practice is to ensure that your court order has the option of permitting changes “as mutually agreed upon by the parties in writing” to avoid one parent changing his or her mind later on and the other parent being unable to get the authorities involved to enforce the orders. Communicate everything regarding the current court orders (i.e. changes, agreements, etc.) either through court-approved communication portals (ourfamilywizard.com or talkingparentings.com) assuming there is an order in place for such portals to be utilized and if not, then make sure it is in some sort of writing. The last thing you want is disappointment because the other parent agreed to something “orally” and then changed his or her mind and you have no proof of the agreement if you try to get the authorities involved to enforce your agreements (its just smart practice especially if you and the other parent are incapable of co-parenting or working things out informally – get it in writing).

2. Carry a copy of your court orders on you at all times (if you are traveling or not). Make sure that the children’s school(s) have a copy and keep one in the car. You would be surprised how many custody-related arguments occur at pick-up and drop-off locations (and authorities may be involved). If you anticipate a problem, then make sure to get a certified copy of your court order prior to your travels as a copy of the orders may be insufficient in certain jurisdictions or venues.

3. If you are traveling out-of-state or out-of-country, make sure your court order(s) allow you to do so. If the court orders permit out-of-state or out-of-country travel, then give the requisite notice well in advance to avoid issues (don’t wait the last minute regardless of what your court orders provide). This may include providing the other parent with an itinerary, flight information, addresses where the children will be staying at all times (hotels or other types of lodgings, etc.) as well as a phone number where the children may be reached in case of an emergency. If you don’t have orders to permit out-of-state or out-of-country travel, then DON’T wait to get them. Contact your attorney to file the requisite paperwork with the court months in advance of your intended travel to make sure you get court approval. Remember, ex parte applications (or otherwise known as emergency orders) for custody or parenting-related issues are generally not granted especially if you wait until the last minute (and in the court’s perspective that can be viewed as waiting less than 45 to 60 days prior to the intended travel date) to petition the Court for relief. Not only will your ex parte application be potentially denied, but travel plans ruined and unnecessary anger and emotions added to the mix. Plan accordingly.

4. Keep your attorney in the loop. If you believe issues are going to come up, then communicate those issues to your attorney in advance so he or she can either reach out to the other parent’s attorney or so he or she can document it in a letter to the other parent’s attorney to preemptively avoid issues from coming up in the first place.

5. If you can work it out amongst yourselves, then do so. You know what is best for your particular situation and your children. Why risk having the court decide what is in the best interests of your children? Sometimes that just isn’t possible and that’s okay. Be prepared so you can make sure your time with the children is uninterrupted and the holidays go as smoothly as possible.