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As December approaches, the holiday season takes off in full effect. With holiday joy and festivities also often comes stress, particularly associated with custodial issues if you are a divorced or single parent.  

A clear and thorough holiday visitation agreement can help to greatly reduce your holiday stress by laying out clear plans for holiday custody and visitation. Whether your child is out of school for a holiday vacation or you are simply trying to figure out the best schedule for visitation, we’ve got you covered. This Planning ahead will allow you to avoid messy arguments conflicts and continual negotiations with your co-parent with the stress of the holidays looming.

If you and your co-parent have already executed a Final Judgment, more than likely your holiday schedule will be delineated in the Judgment. You should note that holiday visitation schedules usually take precedence over the regular schedule; however, if this is the case, the same will be clearly stated in your Final Judgment and/or Stipulation and Order.

On the contrary, perhaps this is your first or second holiday in which you must split your time with your children and a Stipulation and Order and/or a Final Judgment is not in place; if that is the case, coordinating child custody during the holidays should be done as early as feasibly possible to avoid adding stress to an already heightened time of the year.  

We recommend that before the season begins, you reflect critically on which holidays are most important to you. For example, perhaps your family throws a huge celebration on New Year’s Eve and it’s important to have your children there with you. If that is so, arrange with your ex-partner as soon as possible so you can ensure that you are able to spend the holiday(s) that have the most meaning in your family with your children. Of course, there may be holidays that are important to both you and your ex-partner. If that instance arises, it is likely that you may decide to split the holiday (i.e. one parent has the children for one-half of the day and the other parent has the children for the other half of the day), or, perhaps you rotate that holiday each year (i.e. mom has children on Christmas Day in even years and dad has children on Christmas Day in odd years).

Once you have determined which holidays are important to you, start putting pen to paper.  Below, we have listed common ways in which parents divide and share holiday time:

  • Alternate holidays every other year. One parent can be assigned a certain holiday on even years and the other parent assigned that same holiday in odd years.  With this arrangement, you won’t miss spending a holiday with your children more than one year in a row.
  • Split the holiday in half.  Parents can decide to split the day of the holiday so that the children spend part of each day with each parent.  This arrangement requires planning and coordination, particularly to avoid extensive travel on a holiday if distance is a factor for your children. Thus, if this is the method you choose, ensure that your pick-up and drop-off times are realistic and in your children’s best interest.
  • Schedule a holiday twice. Some parents wish to schedule a time period for the children to celebrate a holiday with both parents. Thus, for example, one parent can celebrate Christmas with the children on December 20th and the other parent on December 25th. Although this may not be ideal for the parent who is spending Christmas on December 20th, it ensures that adequate, meaningful time is being spent with both parents.
  • Assign Fixed Holidays. In the event particular holidays are more important to respective co-parents, consider arranging a schedule in which the each parent receives time with the children on holidays that are particularly important in his or her family each year.

To avoid confusion, if a regular custody schedule is in place, you should include (in writing) that the holiday schedule will supersede the regular custodial schedule.

It is important to keep in mind that when parents are separated, naturally, there must be some give and take involved. Both parents must be willing and able to make compromises. The more compromises both parents are willing to make for the benefit of the children, the more likely they can limit any child custody issues that may arise during the holiday season.

Further, it is quite common to have back-and-forth communication with your co-parent before a holiday schedule is finalized. As such, we recommend that once you have spelled out the details using casual methods of communication (i.e. in-person discussions, telephone calls), you finalize the same in writing.  

Additionally, if you and your co-parent utilize a co-parenting communication website, we encourage you to add your finalized holiday schedule to the calendar located on that specific website; that way, both separated or divorced parents can clearly see the finalized schedule, which will ultimately eliminate, or at least reduce, any miscommunication.

Eliminating stress in its entirety is nearly impossible during the holiday season; however, planning coming up with a plan ahead of time to determine a holiday schedule that works best for you and your co-parent and serves your children’s best interest is one issue that, if addressed early, can allow you to more easily enjoy the holidays.