When establishing parenting time as part of a divorce or custody dispute, one of the most common issues that arises is holiday parenting time. It is often very difficult for parents to envision spending any holiday, whether it's Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, or the Fourth of July, without their children. Also, discussing the holidays sometimes reminds the parties of how the holidays used to be when they were still a couple, which can be a painful reminder of what the parties are losing as part of their separation. As a result, many of my clients will get emotional when discussing holiday parenting time (whether that emotion is sadness, anger, nostalgia, etc), which can lead to disputes. However, when a couple with children splits up, the unfortunate reality is sometimes your children will be with the other parent during the holidays.
Although holiday parenting time sometimes get contentious, it doesn't have to be this way. There are many different ways parents can equitably divide holiday parenting time with their children. Therefore, I usually encourage the parties to try to find a schedule that works for them and simply agree to it. One common way to divide the holidays is for parents to alternate the holidays every other year such that a parent is guaranteed time with their children on certain holidays in even years, and on other holidays in odd years. Using Christmas as an example, under this model, Mom could take Christmas Eve in even years, with Dad to take Christmas Day in even years, then Mom would take Christmas Day in odd years, with Dad to take Christmas Eve in odd years. This model would apply to all other holidays, including holiday weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day. If the idea of missing out on all of Christmas Day doesn't appeal to the parties, the parties can always split the day up such that the children will spend time with both parents on each day. Using Christmas as an example, the parties could alternate which parent sees the children from 11:00 AM on Christmas Eve to 11:00 AM on Christmas morning, and which parent will see the children from 11:00 AM Christmas Morning to 11:00 AM the following day.
However, a simplistic alternating holiday schedule does not work for everyone, depending on how the parties celebrate the holidays with their families. Because of this, I tend to start by asking the parties how and when they usually celebrated the holidays with each side of the family. If the parties celebrated with each side of the family at different days/times, I like to encourage the parties to keep that schedule for their kids, and award holiday parenting time accordingly. For example, if the parties typically had dinner with Mom's side of the family on Christmas Eve, and then would have dinner with Dad's side of the family on Christmas Day, I may encourage the parties to agree to allow Mom to have the children on Christmas Eve every year, and then Dad would have the children for Christmas Day every year, with the parties to alternate which parent gets the overnight from Christmas Eve into Christmas morning. This arrangement would allow the children to participate in both families' traditions, while ensuring that, at least every other year, each parent got to have their children for the joy of Christmas morning.
This is just two of the countless ways the parties can agree upon a holiday parenting time schedule that works for everybody. Although there are many different ways to schedule holiday parenting time, the important thing to remember is that you and your former spouse/significant other need to do what works best for the both of you, and, perhaps more importantly, your children. If you need help establishing a parenting time schedule for the upcoming holiday season, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation.