The Christmas Visitation Feud In RI Family Court


Will a Judge of The Rhode Island Family Court order that a child should wake up and open the Christmas presents every year on Christmas morning at the house where the child resides?


Almost every judge in Rhode Island Family Court believes that the parties should alternate Christmas evening / Christmas Morning Visitation so that both parents have the opportunity to enjoy the children on  Christmas Evening and Christmas morning. The judges have heard the usual arguments a million times before.

The argument is as simple as:  “The child should wake up in his or her house every year  to open the presents on Christmas morning.”

However, Rhode Island Family Court Judges usually believe that both parents have parental rights and should be able to enjoy the child on such a special day. The parent with physical custody/ physical placement does not automatically get to have the child on Christmas evening and Christmas morning!

 If the parties cannot reach a settlement, the judge will normally order the following Schedule. The normal schedule for the Christmas Holiday is that one parent will have Christmas evening until between 11:00am to 2:00pm Christmas day and the other parent will have Christmas day from 11:00am to 2:00pm overnight on Christmas night. The parties will alternate that schedule on a year to year basis.

Emotional arguments typically will not work in RI Family Court. There are hundreds of these disputes before  the Rhode Island Family Court in a given year and Judges must be consistent and fair and must respect the parental rights of the non custodial parent  (the parent with visitation rights).

(I have the word “visitation” because it suggests that the non custodial parent is a “visitor” in his/her child’s life. I prefer using “Parenting time”)

Don’t expect that your case will be different from the thousands of cases that come before the Family Court on this issue. Don’t waste too much money in Lawyers / Attorneys fees fighting about this issue since everyone knows the question and everyone knows the answer!

There is an argument that is made over and over again in Rhode Island Family Court which essentially opines that “young children” should be able to wake up at their house and open the presents at their house.  To the people who make this argument “Their house” means the house of the parent who has physical custody/ physical placement of the minor child.

This doctrine is rejected by most Family Court Judges who see the issue as a matter of fairness to alternate the holiday. However, some judges may look sympathetically on this argument since Christmas is a very special moment for 4, 5, 6.and 7 year old children.

In the event that there is an existing order regarding Christmas visits then the party seeking to alter the visits must show a change in circumstances to change the designated schedule.

Often the best thing to do is negotiate. Judges will often ask the aprties to attempt mediation to resolve their holiday visitation disputes.  If Christmas morning is so important to you what are you willing to give up in order to get the other side to back off? Perhaps an extra week in the summer? More time on thanksgiving or some other concession? Rhode Island Family Court is all about negotiation which often involves making concessions.