Legal How-To: Modifying Holiday Child Custody Plans Out of Court


Legal How-To: Modifying Holiday Child Custody Plans Out of Court

Child custody is a complex issue, and changes to your parenting agreement typically have to go through the California court system. However, with the holidays quickly approaching, families often need to make special arrangements or travel decisions that conflict with the current child custody arrangement. During the holidays, courthouses may not be open, judges may not be available, and you may feel like there is no way to modify your custody arrangement in time. Luckily, there are a few options for modifying your child custody arrangement out of court.

If you and your ex-spouse can agree on what’s best for you and your children during the holidays, you can work out an agreement between the two of you. This way, you can have a written document that proves you both agreed to this modification, without having to take the time to wind through the court process. In this informal modification agreement, make sure to include:

  • Which parent is picking up and dropping off the kids when exchanging custody
  • Where, when, and how long each child will stay during the holidays
  • The date of the agreements
  • Both parents’ signatures

Be sure to retain a copy of this agreement for your records, just in case anyone tries to dispute it at a later date.

If you and your ex-spouse are not able to agree on what’s best for the children, it can help to get a child custody attorney involved. Especially if you are considering an informal modification agreement or a last-minute change to your parenting plan, a family law attorney can help you figure out whether or not your agreement will hold up in court and what the best plan of action is.

Another way to make last-minute modifications is to allow for them in your initial divorce mediation. During this mediation period, a mediator can help you and the other party anticipate future problems, talk through them, and account for them in your parenting plan. There are few restrictions on how you and your ex-spouse can decide to tackle future last-minute decisions, so long as you both agree and it is established in writing. If desired, you can also designate a third party, such as a mediator, to play the role of the judge (figuratively speaking) in last-minute custody decisions.

As with any custody decision, everything depends on your relationship with your ex-spouse and the circumstances involved. If you two are on good terms, modifying your child custody agreement out of court should be relatively simple—just sit down and write up a quick explanation of the situation and sign your names to it.

However, if you two are not on good terms, it can be much more difficult to do things out of court. Disagreements and hurt feelings can arise quickly, making it much more difficult to come to an agreement and travel with your child during the holiday season. If you anticipate this being the case, try to get the process started as far in advance as possible. This can give you time to consult a family law attorney or mediator to help you through custody issues.