With Halloween upon us, Chicagoland kids (and parents) are getting their costumes ready for school parades and trick or treating. Perhaps someone is begging mom or dad to “please, please just one more time, let me be Elsa again!” Parents all over the Chicago metropolitan area are prepping for the seasonal onslaught of sugar induced hyperactivity that is about to flow into their homes. Amidst the excitement, some newly separated families may also be struggling with where, when, and how to navigate this once familiar trick-or-treating plan. For many families, this Halloween may be the first year when a child doesn’t get to hold mom and dad hands, and some may not even see a parent at all.

A changing family structure can create a lot of stress and uncertainty for children. As a family life transitions firm, serving Cook County, Lake County, and DuPage County, our goal is to help you alleviate this stress as much as possible by helping you craft a parenting plan (formerly “visitation schedule”) that works for you and your family, especially around the holidays. Holidays are often a hot-button issue in an altered family structure, as emotional attachments have formed around traditions, rituals, meals, and location. The reality is that divorce or separation will change these traditions, but that does not need to be as stressful as one might think.

As the air turns brisk and the leaves in Chicago start to turn, we know that the holiday season nears. If you are going through a divorce or parentage case (or anticipate doing so in the near future), it is important to think about the traditions and holiday schedule that would be in the best interests of your children. Children are oftentimes more adaptable than we think, and for some, it may not be as difficult of transition as one would anticipate. (Especially for the young ones who may now view a particular holiday as a “double” celebration). First and foremost, it is important to accept the reality of compromise regarding your parenting time with your child. For many separated couples, holidays with the children will likely alternate on a yearly basis. For example, one parent may have holiday parenting time on Christmas this year with the other parent having the child on Christmas Eve. The following year, the holiday parenting schedule would alternate and then continue alternating each year until the child is 18 or otherwise emancipated. Allocated holidays typically include: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and Christmas Eve, New Years Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, and Easter Sunday, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.

For some families, geographical distances necessitate substantial discussion and consideration, especially when the children are young. There may also be financial considerations regarding cost of travel when the child may need an adult to accompany them between different states if one of the parents does not reside in Illinois. Other families may decide that it is actually best for the child to spend a particular holiday with one parent every year, for various reasons, whether they be religious, emotional, extended family traditions, or practical reasons.

In a disputed parenting matter (previously “child custody battle”), the law requires that the parenting schedule be in the “best interests of the child.” A trained mediator or an effective attorney can assist in negotiating a holiday parenting schedule that is fair and appropriate. In the event the parents cannot agree, however, a judge will ultimately decide. Having the court make the final determination is usually not the best result for many families, as a judge is not in a position to know or have time to learn of unique circumstances and issues. When possible, always try to resolve the issue outside of court. A parental rights attorney (formerly “custody” attorney) can help you achieve the best result for you and your family. In Illinois, a court will require a Parenting Plan and Allocation Judgment, which will outline all terms of decision-making and parenting time, including holidays.

If you are ready to take the fright out of your Halloween, the Law Offices of J. Jeltes is here to help you craft your best holiday parenting schedule and guide you through the spooky court process. Remember… Halloween comes at the same time every year, so it is not an “emergency” to come into court for your holiday schedule at the witching hour!