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Use a Child Visitation Letter to Set Holiday Expectations

When parents divorce or no longer living together, establishing mutually agreeable visitation ground rules is essential to your child’s wellbeing. Using a Child Visitation Letter can help set expectations regarding pickup, drop off, where the child will stay, as well as issues regarding the health and safety of the child during the pandemic.

As we approach the holidays and plan family gatherings, the threat of contracting or spreading the coronavirus has many people afraid. That is a reasonable concern for any parent moving forward. If you do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with your ex, it may be in your best interest and that of the child to make a formal declaration about health and safety measures during the holidays. One way to steady concerns about the spread of COVID, or reinforce safety protocols already embedded in a parenting plan, is to use a Child Visitation Letter.


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How can I ensure my ex follows COVID safety procedures at holiday family gatherings?

A common misconception exists that Child Visitation Letters only run one way. Non-custodial parents often feel as if the weight and force of the courts primarily support the rights of the custodial parents. Many loving parents operate under that misconception, even when they have joint custody. Nothing could be further from the truth. As long as you enjoy custody or visitation, you have an equal stake in the child’s welfare. That being said, here are some reasons to craft a Child Visitation Letter.

  • You enjoy established visitation rights and want to plan a gathering.
  • You have visitation rights and want to travel during the holidays.
  • The custodial parent is not following the visitation order or plan.
  • The custodial parent is negatively impacting your ability to enjoy quality time with the child.

As you can see, parenting time and rights run both ways. Family court judges widely agree that having a robust relationship with both parents remains in the child’s best interest. And while parenting plans and court orders are put in place as guidelines to support the child’s interest first and foremost, no one could have predicted the global pandemic. Needless to say, accounting for safety measures to protect against a once-in-a-generation virus presents a unique challenge.

But that’s precisely why mechanisms such as Child Visitation Letters are in place. They open a door for parents to make changes and clarifications when necessary. If you are planning a family get-together during the holidays, these are items worth including in your letter.

  • Time and date of the holiday visitation.
  • When the child will be picked up.
  • A travel itinerary and where the family gathering will take place.
  • The number of people expected at the holiday gathering.
  • Description of the anticipated activities.
  • Details about coronavirus safety measures such as masks, hand sanitizers, and social distancing.

Can I change the visitation schedule if we disagree on COVID precautions during the holidays?

There are a few ways to address differences of opinion regarding the unique challenges of coronavirus safety during the holidays. If you have a mutually agreed-upon Parenting Plan in place, open and candid communications that result in a meeting of the minds typically proves fruitful. If you and your ex cannot reach a reasonable consensus, it’s essential to understand you may not be able to change the visitation schedule unilaterally.

As the first wave of the pandemic spread, regional and federal governments instituted shelter-in-place mandates. Many called for people to engage in only essential work and travel. Family courts usually considered visitation orders to fall within the parameters of “essential” travel. By that same token, random travel and human contact may not pass muster in court.

Preventing visitation or exceeding an order can result in serious legal consequences. These might include being held in contempt, limiting parenting time, or changing who is the custodial parent in some cases. If you strongly disagree about the visitation schedule due to COVID, consult with a lawyer for help before acting.

How can I reset holiday visitation expectations and agreements in writing?

If you feel strongly that the travel associated with an existing visitation order subjects your child to unnecessary risk, alerting the court could be your best option. Family courts across the country fielded complaints and fast-tracked virtual hearings to resolve co-parenting disagreements.

The first step to ensuring your child’s risk of contracting the virus is minimized during holiday visitations may be to prepare a Child Visitation Letter. Consider examples and write out the essential points of your particular problem. Then, weigh those against any existing co-parenting agreements and court orders. It may also be in your best interest to ask a lawyer to help refine the letter before sending it to the other parent.

With any luck, both parents will act reasonably to ensure safety and alleviate each other’s fears. If not, a legal professional can help guide you to notify the court.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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