Intro

In the United States, between 35%-50% of first-time marriages end in divorce, increasing to approximately 60% for second marriages and 70+% for marriages after the second. (See https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/divorce-rate-by-state).  What does this high rate of divorce mean for couples and families in Northern Virginia? 

One major impact divorce has on families is that holidays, once celebrated together, are now, most often, divided. Families have to learn an entirely new dance as they navigate their new normal.  Ask just about any divorce attorney, and he or she will tell you that the adjustment is not easy and that there is always an uptick in phone calls prior to holidays. Even with the most amicable of divorcing couples, holidays can be a time filled with heightened emotion.  It is important to the children of divorce that their parents determine a workable holiday schedule which is both as free from conflict as possible and also allows the children to celebrate with each parent. 

With Mother’s Day rapidly approaching, let’s take a deeper dive into the role mediation can play in establishing a long term workable and successful holiday schedule.

Mediation and the Holidays

Virgina Divorce mediation has a traditionally very high success rate at around 80%. (See https://mediate.com/).  Perhaps this is because one of the most important benefits to divorce mediation, as opposed to litigation, is it allows the divorcing couple to be in the driver’s seat.  In a litigated case, the judge will not have the time to hear testimony about important family traditions.  A judge will most likely hand down an alternating holiday schedule—mom gets evens, dad gets odds.  Although on the surface that may seem “fair” it fails to consider the unique priorities and traditions every family has.  

At Kales & Kales, PLC, Amy & Jonathan always take the time to ask about a family’s history with regard to the holidays, for example: What holidays do you celebrate? Do you usually travel at Thanksgiving or for Spring Break?  Do you want the children with you on Mother’s Day or do you prefer to go to the spa?  By truly taking the time to get to know our clients, we hope to craft shared custody agreements which will work for parents for years to come.

Creative and Outside- of-the-Box Solutions

Because Amy & Jonathan Kales take the time to listen to their mediation clients, they are able to draft enduring parenting or custody agreements; and because they have years of experience, they are able to customize parenting and custody provisions to their mediation clients’ needs.

To illustrate the creative approach we take, consider the following example:  Winter Break in Fairfax County and, starting in the 2024-25 school year, Arlington County as well, is two full weeks long. 

There are many ways a divorcing couple could reach agreement regarding a parenting plan during Winter Break.  If a family traditionally travels a long way (which is not unusual in the Northern Virginia area—we’ve worked with lots of State Department families and immigrant families who are often abroad during the break), it might make sense that one parent will take the entire break in even years, the other in odd years.  If both parties live in the Northern Virginia area, they may simply divide the break in half with one parent getting the first week which includes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the other getting the second week which includes New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day—this option, of course allows each parent to travel with the children during the break. Sometimes when it’s important to both parties that they have time with the children on the holiday of Christmas, the parents will each take a week of the break, but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are isolated so that that each parent has time with the children on those special days.  It’s not unusual for us to include language, when applicable, that the parties intend to celebrate the holidays together, but in that case we most often provide backup language as to what would happen if the parties change their minds and don’t want to spend the holidays together.

Of course, this creative approach can be taken with all holidays—even Mother’s Day.  In the majority of cases, the moms in our mediation cases prefer to have the child(ren) in their care on Mother’s Day; however, as any mother of small children or teenagers can attest, having a few minutes to herself on Mother’s Day isn’t a bad idea either.  We can draft custody provisions which achieve both goals.   

Conclusion:

The best Marital Settlement Agreement, when a divorcing couple has minor children, are the ones which provide the structure and framework for an enduring shared custody arrangement.  In order to be enduring a shared custody arrangement allows flexibility as the family grows and matures and takes into account the family’s traditions, history, and the parents’ vision for the future.

 In Northern Virginia and elsewhere, mediation is often the best divorce process option to get divorcing couples the shared custody arrangement they desire. If couples are willing to approach mediation with an open mind, creativity, outside-the-box solutions are out there, and Amy and Jonathan Kales are available to help you explore the options.

Image by George Dolgikh