Holiday Parenting Time
The holidays are special times for most parents and children. That includes parents who were never married and parents who have divorced. Unfortunately, holidays can also be stressful. They are often stressful for intact families and for those in the middle of a custody dispute, the stress from the holidays can be almost unbearable.
Before the holidays arrive, there are actions that can be, and should be, taken to avoid problems with future holiday parenting time. When the parties are working on a custody and parenting time schedule, it is imperative that they also agree upon a holiday schedule. Attorneys often recommend alternating holidays. For instance: one parent has Christmas Eve in even numbered years and Christmas Day in odd numbered years. However, in many families one holiday is more important than it is in other families. For instance, some extended families have their big Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve and some have it on Christmas Day. In situations such as these, it is in the children’s best interests to be able to enjoy these traditions as much as possible and in many cases, parties will agree to a holiday schedule that incorporates those traditions. If the holiday is not steeped in tradition, then often it is in the children’s best interest for the holiday to be divided. For instance, one parent takes the children for Easter breakfast / brunch and one parent takes the children to Easter dinner. It may also be important to take into consideration that some travel time might be necessary for holiday celebrations. In those cases, it may be very difficult to divide a holiday and it is often necessary for each parent to have the children for the holiday in alternate years.
It is better for both parents and especially the children that a holiday schedule is worked out at the time of the parties’ divorce or at the time that the parties enter into a custody / parenting time agreement. If the parties are unable to agree upon a schedule, the Court will likely impose a basic alternating yearly / holiday schedule. That schedule does not typically take into consideration the parties’ special family traditions. Further, it doesn’t take into consideration the preferences of the parties with respect to particular holidays (i.e. Christmas Eve versus Christmas Day) nor does it take into consideration the fact that one or both of the parties may have to travel to visit extended family for the holiday. Therefore, the parties should do all that they can to compromise to arrive at an agreed upon holiday schedule so that the children can continue to enjoy the special holiday and family traditions. The holiday schedule in the parties’ agreement is to serve as a default but, the parties are free to deviate from it in the future if both parties agree that to do so would be in the children’s best interest.
What should a parent do who isn’t scheduled to celebrate a holiday with their children in a specific year? There are some options:
- The holiday could be celebrated on a different day. Some people celebrate Christmas or birthdays with their children and extended family on days other than the actual holiday.
- Ask your ex-spouse for some additional time. Sometimes a few extra hours are easy to agree upon.
- Take the children to a special holiday event that takes place on a day other than the actual holiday.
- Use Skype or Facetime or at least call.
Here are some tips to follow when arriving at a holiday schedule and later following the holiday schedule:
- Your children are what is most important.
- Confirm the holiday schedule ahead of time. You want to make sure that you both are following the same schedule. Waiting until the day before or even week before can set up a disappointing holiday schedule for all involved.
- Be timely. If your visit ends at 6:00 p.m. on the holiday and the other party is expecting to have the children at 6:00 p.m. for holiday dinner, you should make sure that you exchange the children at the time agreed upon. This will aide in not only maintaining an amicable relationship with your ex-spouse but also ensure that the children fully enjoy and experience the holiday.
- Effectively communicate your expectations. Don’t expect the other parent to know what days or times you want for the holiday schedule.
- Share all of the holiday events that you can with your children even if the children will not actually spend the holiday with you. For instance, take your children to Christmas pageant and/or attend theirs at their church/school. Attend the children’s Halloween party in school. Attend the school Thanksgiving feast / party.
- Compromise / be flexible. Perhaps your family doesn’t have anything planned for a holiday dinner, but the other parent does. It might be in the children’s best interest to go with the other parent so that the children can spend time with extended family. A compromise to swap the holiday or time of day might work out for both parents as well as the children.
- If the holiday is not yours that year, do not make the children feel bad about spending the. Holiday with the other parent.
- Your children are what is most important. (Repeated because of the importance!)