Holiday Parenting Time

Tis the season... to fight over your kids. When going through a divorce or custody proceeding, one thing parents must decide is how they wish to share time during the holidays. This means that you have to know how you want to spend every holiday and school-free day well out in advance - and then you're stuck with that schedule until your child is 18 years old.

Many parents come to my office without realizing this is something they must decide. If you go through your custody arrangements in April, you may not have thought about what those arrangements mean come December. And best yet, if you and your soon-to-be ex go to trial without an agreement, the Judge decides your holiday schedule for you and you are at the Court's mercy on how you spend the holidays... each and every year.

My advice is to sit down with a calendar and work through the logistics before coming to your attorney's office and really think about what will work for you, your child, and the other parent. Holidays are stressful as is - don't make a crazy schedule add to that stress. Family law attorneys have many calls and emails around the holidays of parents agreeing to something different and then backing out, etc. etc. Understand that if you cannot agree to alter the parenting plan originally ordered, then you must default back to whatever was ordered in the parenting plan to a T.

Here are some common arrangements people choose:

Christmas: Many people split the two-week break in half on the day of Christmas at 3:00 p.m. Somehow this became the standard and people went with it. A pro of this plan is that the parent who has Christmas Eve, has Christmas morning too so it makes for a smooth holiday for the children getting in bed and waking up to Santa. A con to this plan is that it means that at 3:00 p.m., after a heavy lunch at one family's house, the parents are packing bags and driving to a drop-off/pickup location in a rush so that the children can make it to the other side's family. And this is all happening on Christmas day mind you, so it's a lot of time in the car for the kids who really want to be playing with all their new toys.

Another arrangement I see is splitting the two-week break in half on the day after Christmas, the 26th. A pro to this is the kids have the full day of Christmas to be in one home. The con is of course, every other year, one parent is without their kids.

Something else to keep in mind, is that the second half of the two-week block will include New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Some parenting schedules have this holiday separated out, so make sure that they align and keep the schedule cohesive and consistent.

Thanksgiving: My tidbit for this holiday is you can get creative and have it be Wednesday - Sunday. This then gives the holiday five days that you and the other parent can play around with to share time with the kids.

Other school free days: If President's Day was never important to you, it is now because it means one more day with your child. But, on the other hand, if this, in reality just means extra hassle with day care, and driving back and forth, then let it go. Allow your child to stay at whatever home makes it easier for your child.

Birthdays: this one seems to be something that people get weird about. I love birthdays, but 5 out 7 years, they are going to land on a week day anyway so you are at work and your kid is at school. My advice is to not include birthdays in the parenting plan at all, and simply decide to celebrate with your child when it's your parenting time. Surprisingly, parents want to split this day in half - how does that work on a weekday?! I've even seen parents want to add special language that the other parent is invited to the birthday party. This means that: (1) one parent is obligated to throw and host a party and (2) your ex will be there with your other guests, family, and friends. If you get along with the other parent and can guarantee that you will get along years to come, then this is a great blended family idea. However, if this will cause controversy, your child will be who suffers, on his or her birthday.

The take-away: come into this with a proposed plan, reasonable mindset, and be flexible. The balancing factors to weigh it seems is: logistics of travel, daycare, and how your child is affected. Happy Holidays!

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