Dealing with a separation and divorce can be difficult, especially when child custody is involved. The holidays can present a whole new set of challenges for separated and divorced parents. In addition to developing a regular custodial schedule for the children, parents must also decide where and with whom their children will spend their holiday time now that mom and dad live in two different houses. In thinking about a schedule that will work for the new family unit, it is important to consider several factors. First, to the extent possible, the children’s holiday traditions should be preserved. For example, if throughout the parties’ marriage, the children had Thanksgiving lunch with their paternal grandparents, and Thanksgiving dinner with the maternal side of the family, the parents may want to consider implementing a visitation schedule that allows both parents the opportunity to take the children to their respective family’s holiday activities.
Another issue that often arises is whether parents should alternate major holidays with the children or attempt to divide each holiday period. In determining the preferred schedule, parents should keep in mind whether either parent may need to travel out of state with the children to visit extended family for the holidays. If that is the case, parents may prefer a schedule that allows them to alternate various holidays on an annual basis, rather than try to divide each individual holiday. For example, rather than attempting to divide Thanksgiving Day, parents may instead choose to alternate the entire holiday weekend such that dad has custody of the children from after school the last day preceding the holiday weekend until the following Sunday in even numbered years, and mom has this same time with the children in odd numbered years.
Typically, for the major holidays such as Christmas or Hanukkah which often coincide with a longer break from school, parents choose to divide the school break evenly such that the children spend the first half of the school break with one parent, and the second half of the school break with the other parent. Parents may then choose to divide Christmas Eve and Christmas Day such that one parent would have custody of the children from Christmas Eve at a particular time until mid-morning on Christmas Day. The parents would then alternate these times on an annual basis.
In addition, parents should consider a custodial schedule that maximizes the children’s time with both parents. Children benefit in different ways from spending time with each of their parents. In situations where both parents are suitable caregivers, mom and dad may want to consider a schedule that allows the children to spend as much time as possible with each parent. Many different options exist for shared custodial arrangements. Some separated families choose to share custody of their children on a weekly basis such that the children live with mom for one week and dad the next week. Other families choose to share custody of their children such that mom has the children every Monday and Tuesday, dad has custody of the children every Wednesday and Thursday, and the parties alternate the weekends such that the children are with mom Friday, Saturday and Sunday in week one and with dad for those days in week two. There is no right or wrong answer here. The key is to pick a custodial arrangement that works for your family.
While the holidays can present unique challenges for separated and divorced families, by maintaining the children’s traditions and implementing a schedule that accommodates both parents, these challenges can be overcome. Overall, flexibility and a willingness to compromise when dealing with issues of child custody go a long way to ensure that the children and both parents enjoy their holiday time with one another.
The first holiday season after a separation can evoke a variety of emotions for both you and your children. Steeped as they are in memories and traditions, the holidays are likely to stir up feelings of fear, stress, and potentially even sadness. In our podcast, host Jaime Davis and fellow family law attorney Melissa Essick discuss tips for preparing and coping with the first holiday season as a separated/divorced family.