Divorce does not eliminate a child’s wishes to spend time with certain family members at certain locations, especially during the holidays. These wishes have special meaning and may be part of the stress a family suffers during divorce. For legal and parenting reasons, however, child custody and visitation should not be readily modified.
First, failure to comply with a custody and visitation agreement can have legal consequences if a parent does not agree to the change. Courts must approve any modifications if the parents do not agree to a deviation or it may impose sanctions.
Shifting parenting schedules upon a child’s wishes undercuts the time and consideration that went into negotiating a reasonable schedule. Co-parenting becomes improvisation instead of planning and predictability.
Changing these schedules can also cause resentment if a child prefers one parent during the holidays and then follows this preference during spring break and summers. This can increase hostility between a child’s parents and reduce the child’s expectations for predictability and consistency and strengthen their belief that they can set the terms of visitation and custody and upset a family’s schedule.
Changing schedules also puts off the time where the child must accept the idea that their parents are separated and there are changes in the family’s lives. This loss and emotion cannot be avoided. Support, compassion and understanding will be more beneficial instead of random scheduling changes.
Parents should cooperate with meeting some of these needs, however. They can decide to celebrate part of the holiday together. Some schedules may be modified for special events or if a child is exhibiting signs of depression or problems at school.
An attorney can help parents negotiate and prepare a custody and visitation agreement that is fair and reasonable. They can also assist with their enforcement.