Stories of family conflict during the holidays abound. One need only watch favorite holiday movies or TV shows to see how common family disputes can be during the holidays. One or another family member revives some old perceived slight, which sets in motion familiar opposing positions, and the conflict begins. Among parties who never quite got over their marital or parenting differences, these tensions can – and often do – find their way into a lawyer’s office.
Since Texas law contains a presumption favoring a Standard Possession Order, a significant majority of final conservatorship orders contain the customary holiday provisions outlined in the Standard Possession Order. When that is the case, one parent will typically have a right of possession of the child during the entire Thanksgiving holiday and the opposite parent will have the first half of the Christmas school break in a given year. The parent that had possession during Thanksgiving will have a right of possession during the second half of the Christmas school break. The exact reverse of this schedule will occur the following year and each parent’s place in the schedule will alternate yearly. Accordingly, children learn to expect slightly different traditions and customs on each side of their families.
Courts hearing custody matters are skeptical of claimed emergencies during the holidays that have any potential to alter the customary order of holiday possession. This can be a delicate issue if there is truly some potential for harm in a child’s environment that needs court attention or intervention. Great care should be taken to articulate the harm in such cases and actively distinguish the facts from any perceived effort to diminish the other parent’s holiday possession out of spite.
Just as parents should insulate children from adult conflict in general, a reverence for the holidays calls for even better attention to the principle of insulation. This requires a certain respect for the opposite parent’s customs, traditions, habits and practices.
It is often said that the litigation process is slow. Parties engaged in a family law dispute should know that the process is even slower during the holidays. Courts take time off. Lawyers take time off. Parties, themselves, take time off. The responsiveness of the entire Family Law endeavor will be slower during the holidays than during most other times of the year. Parties needing important legal matters addressed should plan ahead and have some understanding that even the most diligent lawyer cannot control the calendars of others who play a part in bringing resolution to their disputes.
Despite the seeming chaos of the holidays when mixed with Family Law litigation, the holidays are indeed a special time. Good professionals can help reduce the tensions that parties and children feel when all the important things in one’s life feel suspended by a court case. While it is no guaranty of continuing harmony, gestures of good will can have an incredibly positive effect on long term relations, even among separated households. There is no time like the holidays to extend those gestures of good will.
For those who feel entrenched in significant or seemingly never-ending legal battles, as well as for those lucky enough to have never needed a Family Law attorney, the Law Office of David A. Kazen wishes all a happy and peaceful holiday season.