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Legal How-To: Modifying Holiday Child-Custody Plans Out of Court

With Thanksgiving and other holidays on the horizon, last-minute requests to change your child custody agreement are likely to bubble to the surface.

And since the courts aren't likely to be an available or speedy venue to modify your existing custody agreement, you and your ex need a good way to accommodate Thanksgiving plans (and other holiday plans) outside of court.

Just in time for the holidays, here are a few potential ways to modify Thanksgiving and holiday custody plans without going before a judge:

1. Draft an Informal Custody Modification Agreement.

You and your ex both want what's best for your children, so you and your partner may be able to work out an agreement between the two of you without going before a judge.

The agreement doesn't need to be in any specific format, just make sure to include:

  • The where, when, and how long of each child's custody arrangements for the holidays (including time with grandma and grandpa);
  • Which parent (or other party) is picking up and dropping off the kids when exchanging custody;
  • The date of the agreement; and
  • The signatures of both parents.

Each parent should keep an original signed copy of the modification agreement, just in case either party decides to change his or her mind.

2. Anticipate Last-Minute Changes During Mediation.

During divorce mediation, a neutral mediator can help both parties to anticipate future problems and accommodate for them in the final custody agreement. There are generally no limits on how you and your ex may decide to resolve future disagreements about Thanksgiving and holiday custody. Maybe you will decide to have custody alternate between parents, or maybe you'll decide to flip a coin.

Well, we wouldn't exactly recommend the coin-flip as the ultimate arbiter of your children's holiday plans, but it simply illustrates that a judge is not the only way to solve custody disputes. You may also designate a third party (like your mediator) to play "judge" in these last-minute custody issues in your custody agreement.

3. Get a Lawyer Involved.

If you and your ex are not on good terms, or if you're concerned that any of these custody agreements won't hold up, then it may be best to ask a child custody attorney for help. A child custody lawyer will be able to speak with your ex (or your ex's lawyer) without getting too emotional, and can give you some legal peace of mind during the hectic holiday season.

Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.

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