The holiday season can be a very difficult time for families who have recently experienced a divorce or separation. This can be especially tough on the children, who have become used to their current holiday traditions and look forward to spending time together with the entire family over Christmas or New Years.
For many, what used to be a time of joy and celebration is now filled with conflict, uncertainty, and loneliness.
We sympathize with the difficulties this situation presents, and therefore want to offer advice and guidance to parents to help ease the transition into new traditions so the holiday season can go smoothly for everyone.
Which Parent Gets The Children For The Holidays?
Determining which parent the children will spend Christmas Day or any other important holiday with can create huge conflict between parents. Of course, each parent wants their children with them on the special day, to make memories together and celebrate with loved ones.
However, it’s important to look beyond just what you want, and what is ultimately best for everybody involved, especially the children.
Do not expect your regular parenting schedule to continue on as normal during the holidays. It is very common for it to change. This is done to allow children to spend time with each of their parents and make holiday memories.
When you were formally divorced, the holiday schedule should’ve been determined in your separation agreement. For many, the exact time and place that the children will be when is laid out to avoid any extra confusion or conflict.
However, if there is no formal separation agreement in place, or the separation is still very fresh, talking with your spouse to work out an agreement is important. It is very important that this conversation is done in private and as calmly as possible. Hear out the other person and look for a compromise that allows both parents time to celebrate.
If Parents Cannot Work Out A Schedule, The Court Can
If you have tried talking to your soon-to-be ex-spouse and cannot reach an agreement, you can ask the court for help. However, we always recommend trying to work out a schedule between the two of you, or with the help of your lawyers, first. Additionally, should you have an existing schedule that is no longer suitable, for example if a parent moves away or the children have outgrown the current schedule, you can ask either the court or your lawyers for help.
The Court Will Always Look After Your Children’s Best Interests
If you decide to pursue going to court to work out holiday visitation, it’s important to understand that what you want won’t matter much to the judge. They will create this schedule in the best interests of the children.
Each parent will have a chance to plead their case and raise their concerns, however, your children’s best interests will always trump parent’s wishes.
A holiday schedule often works differently than regular parenting schedules, and the judge will try and make it so each parent has equal holiday time with the child. So, this means that while your spouse may get Christmas Day with your children, you can have Christmas Eve.
Don’t get hung up on the date you have your children. Christmas, or whatever other holidays you celebrate, can be celebrated on any day. It is about traditions and time spent with family, not the number on the calendar.
3 Things Judges Will Consider When Determining A Holiday Parenting Schedule
1. Family traditions
Where possible, the court will consider what family traditions are important to each spouse when determining how time will be spent. For instance, if your side of the family has their big celebration on Christmas Eve, and your spouse’s family has their celebration on Christmas Day, then they will award time spent accordingly so the children can celebrate with both families. In these cases, it is often an easy solve where both sides benefit.
2. Equal time spent with both parents
When children are in grade school, the holidays don’t just include the statutory holidays. It includes all time-off school given to the children. Therefore, not only are the important days such as Christmas or New Year’s divided equally but also, the entire time the children are off school.
A common divide for the main three days of Christmas is to have the children with one parent from noon on Christmas Eve to noon on Christmas Day, and then the other parent will get the children from noon on Christmas Day to noon on Boxing Day. The remaining holiday time will also be split equally.
3. Rotating holiday time with each parent
Just because your spouse got the children for Christmas Day this year, don’t worry. It is very likely that you will get the children for Christmas Day next year. Unless family traditions dictate an easy holiday schedule, such as in point 1, then courts will often alternate the holiday days spent with each parent. This extends past Christmas, and will often also affect things like birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving and more.
It’s important to remember that much of the holiday parenting schedule discussed above is only in cases where the parents live nearby and can easily commute the children. If you live far away from your ex-spouse, then the splitting of time will change. For instance, if you are a flight, or even a long drive away, then one parent may get Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day with the children this year, and you will get them next year.
What About Travelling Over The Holidays?
If you want to take the children on a vacation over the holidays, or even overseas to visit family, then that is allowed. However, it must not interfere with your ex-spouse’s time with the children.
If your spouse is supposed to have the children on Boxing Day, then you cannot decide to take them on a five-day trip starting on Christmas Eve. They must be with their other parent on their allotted days.
However, if you know that your family is overseas and you want to spend the holiday break with them every year, then this can be brought up in court. The judge will work with you, your spouse, and the children to find an equitable solution.
In these cases, most often it will work as if the parents live far away from each other. One parent will get the full holiday break with the children one year, and the next year the other parent will get the full holiday break with the children.
Common Ways Parents Choose Holiday Parenting Schedules
There is no universal right answer for how you should divide your parenting schedules over the holidays. Each family has individual circumstances that will dictate what works best. However, below are some common arrangements to help get a conversation started with your spouse and lawyers, and potentially avoid getting the court involved.
Split Holidays In Half
As stated above, this one is very popular for families who live nearby to celebrate the same holidays. In this case, the children would either spend Christmas Eve with one parent, then Christmas Day with the other. Or, if Christmas Day is the only day celebrations occur, the children may spend the day with both families. For instance, the children spend the morning with one parent and then they switch off with the other parent in the afternoon into the evening.
It is important to coordinate between families for this arrangement to work, as the last thing you want is for the children to feel like they are spending their holiday travelling or feeling rushed with either side of the family.
Additionally, it’s important to make sure your extended family understands this arrangement and does not try to guilt the children about leaving a celebration early or showing up late.
Alternate Holidays Every Year
This is another popular choice for many. If Christmas Day is the most important day for both families, then they will take turns celebrating with the children. One year, your ex-spouse will get Christmas Day, and then the next year, you will get the children on Christmas Day.
Additionally, you can alternate so that your ex-spouse has the children on Christmas Day, and you get Christmas Eve. The next year you would get the children for Christmas Day and your ex-spouse would have the children for Christmas Eve.
Celebrate The Holidays More Than Once
As stated above, don’t feel the need to celebrate Christmas on the 25th and only the 25th. As long as your family is together celebrating the holidays and their traditions, then the number on the calendar shouldn’t matter. If needed, celebrate Christmas Day with your children on December 14th. All that matters is your children get to experience a Christmas with their loved ones.
Assign Fixed Holidays That Matter To Each Spouse
Some choose to forego alternating schedules and instead select fixed holidays. This is an easy solution if each parent has different holidays they celebrate. For instance, if Easter is very important to your ex-spouse but they don’t care about Thanksgiving, you can make it so your ex-spouse gets Easter every year and you get Thanksgiving.
The Right Holiday Parenting Schedule May Need Adjusting
There is no one-size-fits all solution to parenting, and just because a solution is reached for the first year, doesn’t mean you can’t change the holiday parenting schedule down the line for a schedule that works better.
Talk with your spouse about your concerns, your traditions, and your schedule. Additionally, speak with your children about the different options and listen to what they think is best. You can always try out alternating schedules one year and then switch to fixed holidays if that works better.
Communication and understanding from all parties involved, including the children, is the best way to navigate holiday parenting schedules to ensure a stress-free celebration for all involved.
De Rose Lawyers Can Help You Draft A Holiday Parenting Schedule That Works Best
At De Rose, we understand that divorces are not always amicable, and situations arise that make it impossible to calmly solve parenting schedule issues. We are very sensitive to the delicate nature of divorces and relationships and will do everything in our power to work with you throughout the entire process to make it as painless and stress-free as possible.
In situations of family law litigation, it can be very difficult for all parties involved. That’s why we will be by your side the entire time, fighting for your rights and remedies, protecting your children, and always acting in your best interest.
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