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The Christmas Exchange

Tonight's post on The Christmas Exchange was written by one of our family law attorneys, Wesley Wilson, who graciously divides his time between Lawrenceville and Marietta.

In the world of Family Law, the holidays can cause some stress and anguish for our clients, particularly those clients with children, as the time away from their children can really hit home. This stress typically comes from the lack of time each parent believes he or she has with their child. When drafting a holiday visitation schedule, parents sometimes put their interests first, and can forget that their child's best interests are most important. The two most difficult holidays to split are Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is no surprise because in many households, these are the most important.

A standard schedule for Thanksgiving allows one parent to have visitation with the minor child beginning on the day school lets out until the following Sunday before school begins. Typically one parent has visitation during even numbered years and the other during odd numbered years. One parent has the child the whole Thanksgiving day. Some variations might be made, but most schedules reflect the above.

A Christmas visitation schedule is a bit different. Typically one parent has visitation with the child during the first part of the Christmas holiday, while the other parent has visitation with the child during the second part. What makes the Christmas holiday different is the day of Christmas itself. There are two ways that Christmas is usually split between parents. Option 1 is similar to the Thanksgiving schedule mentioned above. In odd number years, parent "A" would have visitation with the child on the week leading to Christmas, including Christmas eve and Christmas day, while parent "B" would have the child the second part (or second week) of the Christmas school break. Option 2 allows both parents to see the child on Christmas day. Parent "A" would again have visitation with the child the week before Christmas day, while Parent "B" would have the second part. The difference is that visitation would change half way through Christmas day, typically between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m..

Option 1 leaves one parent without parenting time on Christmas day, while Option 2 doesn't leave either parent with enough time. So which is better? From my own personal experience, I originally believed that exchanging the child on Christmas day was the most reasonable. My daughter was able to spend time with both myself and her mother on what is traditionally a very special day. However, as time has passed, I've begun to change my position on this issue. A typical Christmas day sees your child wake up around 8 or 9 in the morning to open presents. After opening presents, they eat breakfast and then look to play with their new toys. Most kids also want to take the rest of the day to play with their new toys or go outside to play with their friends and their new toys. However, if a child is forced to switch households midday, then at around 1:00 p.m. their mood changes because they have to start preparing themselves for the exchange at 3:00 p.m. when they are picked up by the other parent. Once they travel home and situate themselves, they open and play with presents, rush to eat dinner, and the next thing you know it is time for bed and they never fully enjoyed themselves throughout the day. They never relaxed and let Christmas be Christmas.

When it comes to children, everything should be done in their best interests. Not switching households midday benefits the child. As a parent, you will have to come to grips with missing out on Christmas with your child every other year. As this alternates by year, each parent will be able to experience the joys of Christmas for a full day, and I do believe that your children will ultimately benefit from the experience. Typically every other holiday is split in such a way, why should Christmas be any different?

For your child, let Christmas be Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy (and relaxing) Holidays.

Wesley Wilson 

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