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When the Vows Break: 'Tis the Season for Long Lines in Divorce Court

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Just the other day, Mayor Daley flipped on the lights on Chicago's giant Christmas tree at Daley Plaza. Well, you know what that means -- long lines at divorce court.

At divorce law offices like mine, 'tis the season for couples arguing over who should get the kids for the holidays.

It's certainly an emotional time of year for a lot of folks. But it's especially trying for those trying to reasonably divide up holiday time with their children, their exes and extended families.

Divorce lawyers like me try to smooth things over without filing "emergency" motions asking judges to settle bitter standoffs between couples that are completely at odds over who has the kids on Christmas Day and just won't budge.

Most county courthouses just aren't equipped to handle the rush of holiday disputes, especially when each party wants to get tell a judge why junior just has to be with his father this year. It's enough to leave judges saying, "Bah humbug!"

A few years back, a certain judge told me he'd like to hang a sign outside the courtroom that says, "Closed for the holidays."

So if you find yourself in divorce court arguing about visitation during the holiday season, here's what you can expect:

* Judges typically stick to the existing visitation agreements, if they exist. A big part of divorce settlements is child custody. A good lawyer will get holiday visits scheduled in writing before a divorce is done and put up a good fight to keep it that way. If a holiday dispute erupts mid-divorce, well, you can probably throw your expectations out the window.

* Don't expect a "win" over you ex when it comes to holiday visits. Judges typically make their ruling based on "what's best for the children." So, it's probably best for parents to avoid creating unnecessary expectations for your kids - promising fancy vacations, big family parties and the like -- before a judge settles the matter. Holiday conflicts can be trying and emotional, especially for the children.

* Plan on a long wait in court. Everything slows down at county courthouses over the holidays. Judges and lawyers take vacation time off, too. So, fewer judges and more hearing requests often create a court traffic jam. You'll probably get stuck in one.

* An "emergency" court hearing will cost you. If your lawyer is in court waiting for your case to be heard by a judge you're going to be paying their highest hourly rate -- even if your case never gets called. That said, if you're willing to foot the bill, a good lawyer will do his best to get that emergency hearing. Just remember: Something that is an emergency to you might not be so urgent for a judge. That's just the way it works, sometimes.

Believe me, I understand these holiday disagreements can really take a lot out of you. So, if you're lucky enough to be before a judge at the Daley Center take a moment to enjoy that pretty tree or have yourself a tasty, hot chocolate at the Christkindlmarket under the Picasso.

Everybody deserves a happy holiday season. I hope you have one.