The holidays are a hectic time.  Divorce with a child only makes the holidays more hectic.  How do the holidays work during and after a Chicago, Illinois divorce? 

The Parenting Plan

When two parents are no longer living together, they must come to an arrangement regarding the time each parent will spend with the children.  Hopefully, the parents can come to an agreement without the help of lawyers or the courts.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

In any case before a final divorce decree is entered or a final allocation of parenting time and parenting responsibilities is entered by the court, the court requires that each parent submit to the court a proposed parenting plan which outlines the regular visitation schedule with the children(every other weekend, etc) and the children’s holiday schedule.

“All parents, within 120 days after service or filing of any petition for allocation of parental responsibilities, must file with the court, either jointly or separately, a proposed parenting plan.” 750 ILCS 602.10(a)

Merely filing this parenting plan does not obligate the other parent to follow its clauses nor does it allow the court to enforce the provisions of the filed parenting plan.  It is merely to put the other party and the court on notice of what kind of parenting plan you would prefer.  Even upon filing the parenting plan, you still have to wait the 120 day waiting period for the other parent to file their parenting plan (usually the judge orders an earlier date for exchange if you promptly file your parenting plan)

If the two parents cannot come to agreement after inspecting each other’s proposed parenting plans, the parties must go to mediation to resolve their differences.

“The court shall order mediation to assist the parents in formulating or modifying a parenting plan or in implementing a parenting plan unless the court determines that impediments to mediation exist.” 750 ILCS 602.10(c)

If mediation is also unsuccessful in leading the parties to an agreement regarding the children’s time with the parents, the courts can enter its own parenting plan/allocation of parenting time after a full evidentiary hearing in accordance with the “best interests of the child.”  The lead up to this full evidentiary hearing is long and expensive as a Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative usually needs to be appointed to determine what exactly are “the best interests of the child”

In Chicago, Illinois, justice is slow but it is fair. 

If this sounds like too much time before entering into a holiday schedule for the children after filing for divorce, it’s because it is.  Any party can file a motion for temporary parenting time until the final evidentiary hearing as described above. 

“A court may order a temporary allocation of parental responsibilities in the child’s best interests before the entry of a final allocation judgment.” 750 ILCS 5/603.5(a)

In practice for temporary orders, the courts usually look at what the previous status quo was (an annual trip to Grandma’s for Christmas) or any agreements or arrangements the parents had made regarding holidays.  These are almost always proven via email or text so be careful what you agree to in writing. 

Holidays

The parenting plan will usually allocate the holidays to the parties by working around the time the children are out of school. 

For winter break, this means typically dividing up the two-week winter break into the first week for one parent and the second week for the second parent.  Some winter breaks will have both Christmas and New Years in the same week period.  In these situations, one parent will take the first day of winter break until Christmas day, the other parent will take the next seven days, and then the first parent will take the remainder of the winter break. 

Many parties will additionally divide Christmas so that one parent has Christmas Eve and Christmas Day until 10 AM.  This allows both parents to enjoy Christmas morning.  New Year’s Eve and Day can also be split up this way.  This splitting of a split holiday often becomes infeasible as children get older.

Spring break and Fall break (if available) can be split in two or rotated on an every-other-year basis. 

Other holidays throughout the year are usually divided by a specific schedule that allocates each holiday to each parent on an every-other-year basis.  This schedule often acknowledges that if one parent gets an important holiday they will forfeit another important holiday.  For example, if you get Thanksgiving with your children this year, the other parent will get Christmas with the children on that same year.  

Some parenting agreements will require parents to share certain holidays because that’s in the best interests of the child.  Typically, the child’s birthday and Halloween require sharing.  

Most parenting agreements say that if it is a mother or father’s birthday, the parent can celebrate their own birthday with their children 

Holidays and Culture and Religion

Most holidays are culturally or religiously based.  A parent who observes a particular religion or is a member of a particular culture is very likely to be awarded the holidays of that religion or culture.  That party should be expected to give up extra time (within reason) to accommodate their holidays

My office has represented dozens of muslim couples as they transition through divorce.  We have standard language to allocate Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha including changing pick-ups and drop offs to accommodate Ramadan.

The parenting allocation allocated decision making responsibility to one or both parents.  This decision making power can, in fact, prevent a child from observing a religious holiday.

“The court shall allocate decision-making responsibility for the child’s religious upbringing in accordance with any express or implied agreement between the parents.” 750 ILCS602.5(b)(3)(a)

This means that the children can observe any religion that the parents were raising them in prior to the divorce or separation.  This is usually not a problem until one of the parents adopts or remarries into a new religion that the other parent is not comfortable with. 

Most allocations of parenting responsibility specify which religion the children will be raised in which in theory prevents the parent from practicing a different religion with their children. 

Does this sound unconstitutional?  It probably is but judges don’t want to start ordering people around regarding their religious practices so instead judges say, “This is a contract you entered into.  Now you have to follow it.”

Summertime

The parties can enter into any parenting schedule they agree to so long as the schedule does not conflict with the children’s school schedule.  In the summertime there is no school so the parties can deviate entirely from their regular parenting schedule.

Some parents alternate every other week during the summertime.  Other parents keep the exact same parenting schedule during the summertime.

Most parents come to some compromise and elect two-week periods where they will exercise parenting time with their children during the summer (usually to take a vacation).  The parents will usually set a date (for example, May 1st) when they will elect their two-week vacation period. The parents will alternate every other year a “first dibs” system in selecting the two-week period.

A summer two-week exclusive parenting time is not mandatory.  Many parents do just one week and some parents do as much as seven (summer lasts 14 weeks for most children).

Holiday Considerations

During a holiday period all the strictures of the allocation of parenting time and parenting responsibilities remain in place.

Parents can typically take their children anywhere in the United States without the permission of the other parent.  Travel outside of the United States usually requires the permission of the other parent, however.

Expenses of the children during a holiday are usually borne by the parent exercising parenting time.  This includes plane tickets and escorts for the minor children at the airport. 

The parent not with the children must be informed as to where the children are at all times (hotel accommodations, etc).  The parent not with the children shall have regular and reasonable telephone contact with the children during all holidays just as they would normally. 

At age 14 to 16 teenagers will typically start choosing whether to go on vacation with their parents or not. No one can really tell a reluctant teenager to go vacation nor should they want to. If you want to spend time with your children in the future, invest in spending time with your children now.

As you can see, something as mundane as scheduling holidays after a divorce can take a great deal of legal acumen.  One silly mistake can literally ruin Christmas. If you’d like to learn more about holiday schedules and divorce, contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm for a free consultation with an experienced Chicago divorce lawyer.