Unmarried parents have the same custody rights as married parents in New Jersey. However, unmarried parents face several custody challenges that married peers do not encounter during a breakup. One of the most significant among them is proving paternity.
Figuring out the family holiday schedule can also be a major headache for unmarried parents without a holiday custody and visitation schedule in place.
Married parents are legally obligated to agree upon and sign a Parenting Plan before a divorce is finalized in New Jersey. The holiday visitation schedule is typically incorporated into that plan.
Unmarried parents are not legally obligated to create a custody agreement after a breakup unless the court gets involved- and it often does. Uncertainty surrounding the family schedule is a breeding ground for future conflict.
Creating a holiday custody schedule keeps both parents on the same page and allows children to emotionally prepare for the holiday season. With the stability of a plan, you can finally start making new traditions and cherished memories.
Below are some practical tips for unmarried parents looking to make a holiday visitation schedule in New Jersey.
An Overview of Custody for Unmarried Parents in New Jersey
Once paternity is established, unmarried parents address custody and child support issues in a non-dissolution case. Like divorce, this process begins with one party filing a complaint with the court.
If parenting issues cannot be resolved in mediation or a consent conference (a process for unwed couples like mediation but not confidential), the case will appear in court before a judge. Both parties may have to endure discovery, expert and witness testimony, and custody evaluations during the proceedings.
All custody and visitation issues will be decided according to the “best interest of the child.” The court will assume children benefit from having both parents in their lives, unless presented with evidence to the contrary. Both parties will likely be required to submit a custody plan for the court’s consideration before making a ruling.
Custody disputes can be the most emotional and contentious area of family law. We highly recommend you seek the advice of an experienced New Jersey family law attorney to guide you through this process.
How to Create a Holiday Visitation Schedule
A holiday visitation schedule is a plan that outlines where the children will go for all major holidays, birthdays, and school breaks. It is separate from the main custody arrangement.
Typically, parenting plans will have a “rotating holiday schedule,” which means each holiday alternates annually between parents.
For example: children spend Thanksgiving with Dad during the even years, and with Mom during the odd years.
Other options include: sharing time on a holiday, scheduling alternative dates for the “off-year” parent to celebrate a holiday, spending the holidays together, or splitting up the holidays accompanying a long weekend.
For example: the children spend Thanksgiving Day with Mom, but spend the following long weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) with Dad.
Some holidays are more meaningful to one parent than another. For this reason, a combination of different time-sharing approaches may work best in your schedule.
The more specific the holiday schedule, the better. Plans should include pickup and drop-off times to minimize arguments over transportation and timing.
Factors to Consider When Making a Holiday Custody Schedule
- Can any of the children’s holiday traditions be preserved?
- Should you alternate holidays each year, or divide time within the holiday?
- What are the travel considerations, both in-state and out-of-state?
- Does the schedule prioritize the wishes of the parents, or the needs of the children?
- How will the plan work in practice? (Ex. splitting a holiday in half may leave children sitting in traffic on Christmas)
Beware of Verbal Holiday Custody Agreements
Never take someone’s word for it when it comes to child custody, even if your co-parenting relationship is cordial. Holiday visitation agreements should always be in writing, signed, and made legally binding by the court.
Hire a New Jersey Divorce and Family Law Attorney
A holiday custody schedule brings stability to a new family dynamic and helps children return to a sense of normalcy.
Holidays will never be exactly how they were, but having a plan reduces conflict during this already emotional season. When co-parents reach a disagreement, they will have the structure of the agreement to guide their behavior. It saves both parties time, money, and emotional stress.
If you are an unmarried parent looking to create or modify a holiday visitation schedule in Bergen County or Morris County, the lawyers at Arons & Solomon, P.A. can help. Contact us for a free consultation.