Dear Cassie: Do I have to ask the judge if I want to have my children for Christmas this year?

Dear C.A.:
The answer to your question depends on whether you already have an Order or Judgment in your case addressing holiday parenting time, or not.

If the former, the holiday parenting time schedule set forth in the Order is binding on the parties, and is only subject to modification upon a showing of changed circumstances. In other words, you would need to show the Court that there has been a material change in circumstances which occurred after the Order was entered, which change in circumstances warrants a different Order being entered. An example of such changed circumstances could be a change in either party’s employment or work schedule, which would necessitate modifying how the holidays were previously divided between the parties.

On the other hand, if there is no Order in your case addressing holiday parenting time, you should be aware that it is customary for courts generally to establish a “rotating” schedule, whereby important holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are rotated between the parties on alternating years. This could mean, for example, that one party has Christmas Eve, while another party has Christmas Day, in a given year; and the opposite schedule is followed the following year.

As with all issues in a divorce or custody case, the parties are always free to negotiate between themselves their own holiday parenting time schedule that meets their family’s unique needs. If there is a reason why a party should or should not have a particular holiday, that would need to be addressed. If you are able to resolve these issues consensually with the other party, you do not need to seek this relief from a Court. However, if you cannot reach an agreement with the other party, you have the right to file a Motion with the Court, and ask the Court to award you holiday parenting time.

If you are dealing with the issue of holiday parenting time in your matter, you should seek the advice of matrimonial counsel.

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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.