It’s in your court: December 3, 2014

Don’t Be a Grinch!
Here come the holidays, so it’s probably timely to again make some comments on child holiday visitation or “parenting time.” Many children of divorced parents will be happily splitting the holidays between their loving and cooperating parents.  Other children become the focus of the annual ritual, that is, the “fight” over which parent is entitled to have the child with them for Christmas. One would think rational parents could resolve these issues, but unfortunately, during the two weeks before Christmas our court will likely see several such disputes make it on the court calendar.  Some parents go so far as to retain a lawyer and bring an “emergency motion” to resolve the issue, basically asking the judge to “play Solomon.”
Most custody orders these days have a multi-page detailed schedule for regular and holiday visitation, including pick-up and drop-off times, and often locations for the exchanges. If the custodial parent violates the court’s order by denying visitation or limiting visitation, the wronged parent may file a motion seeking relief from the court, including a finding of contempt of court.
A basic and commonly-misunderstood part of visitation law is that visitation is NOT conditional upon the payment of court-ordered child support. The parent who is supposed to receive support cannot deny court-ordered parenting time because the “obligor” is failing to pay support.  Therefore, the custodial parent can’t bar the child from seeing the other parent for holiday visitation because there is unpaid child support.
One inevitability that divorced parents seem to ignore at the time of the divorce is that their lives and their children’s lives will change. Parents embark on new relationships, remarry, move a substantial distance apart, and have more children. These folks need to be flexible and understanding to adapt to change. They also need to speak with their own parents and families about the need for flexibility, i.e., avoiding the intractable position, “but we always go to Grandma’s on Christmas Day!”
When disputes arise over visitation, judges will usually require the parents to attend mediation to attempt to resolve the issues themselves before leaving the decision to the court.  Parents may also use the services of a parenting time expeditor or parenting consultant to resolve issues without the expense, financial and emotional, of going to court.
I often tell parents in the middle of such a dispute that they are much better off reaching an agreement in which they are both invested than leaving the decision up to the stranger in the black robe (me) who cannot possibly know more about what is best for their child than them. I sometimes ask them, “Do you want to be the parent that isn’t welcome at your child’s wedding or the birth of the first grandchild because of the miserable childhood you caused them?” 
I hope that you or a family member are not in the middle of such a dispute in court. But if you are, please at least consult with an attorney before you take legal action. This may seem blasphemous, but there is nothing “sacred” about celebrating with children on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  Be flexible. It’s more important that children have a happy, stress-free and memorable experience. Most importantly, consider the emotional toll on your child of getting the child involved in the middle of the dispute. Children are not “mini-adults.” They will remember how you and the other parent addressed these issues, particularly during the holidays.    Keep the child’s feelings and well-being foremost in your mind.  Don’t be a Grinch!
Submitted by Judge Steve Halsey, Wright County District Court, chambered in Buffalo.  Judge Halsey is the host of “The District Court Show” on local cable TV public access channels throughout the Tenth Judicial District.  Excerpts can be viewed at WWW.QCTV.org.  Go to Community and click “The District Court Show.”  Judge Halsey may also be heard on “Legal Happenings” on KRWC 1360 AM (Buffalo) on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m.
Submitted by Judge Steve Halsey, Wright County District Court, chambered in Buffalo.  Judge Halsey is the host of “The District Court Show” on local cable TV public access channels throughout the Tenth Judicial District.  Excerpts can be viewed at WWW.QCTV.org.  Go to Community and click “The District Court Show.”  Judge Halsey may also be heard on “Legal Happenings” on KRWC 1360 AM (Buffalo) on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m.  
 
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