Creating a Smooth Holiday Season for Your Children During and After Divorce
The 2021 holiday season will, for many families, be the first taste of “back to normal” following the COVID-19 pandemic. With parents wanting to return to holiday traditions, out-of-town travel, family dinners and other festivities, it can be a challenge for those divorcing or recently divorced to establish new routines in a year like no other. A pandemic aside, the holidays are particularly challenging for divorcing or divorced parents who may find themselves vying to spend the most time possible with their children and to hang on to precious traditions.
However, with careful planning and negotiation, the holidays don’t have to be mired in conflict. While each family situation is different, there are certain guidelines for creating a schedule that can work for both parties.
The first and primary question that divorcing parents must decide is what holidays to specifically address in a custody plan, who will the children spend each such holiday with and how will this arrangement change from one year to another.
When couples are in the process of divorcing and starting to negotiate the custody and holiday schedules, this is the time to scrutinize each child’s school calendar to see the timing and length of each break period.
The biggest holidays are usually in December and, with Christmas specifically, Christmas Eve and Christmas morning have special meaning to parents with young children. That’s typically when conflicts can erupt. December holidays usually have the longest break within a school year with the vacation lasting anywhere between 15 and 25 days.
Here are some of the most typical ways that divorced couples allocate the holidays:
- Alternate holidays by even and odd year: One parent will get the given holiday in even years and the other parent will get that same holiday in odd years. For instance, the mother would have the children for Thanksgiving in odd years and Christmas in even, while the father has them for Thanksgiving in even years and Christmas in odd.
- Divide a holiday in half: In this scenario, the children spend part of the day with each parent. Since no judge is likely to give one parent every Christmas morning, one parent has the child for Christmas Eve while the other has the child for the remainder of Christmas Day.
- Negotiate additional holidays: For instance, the parents can agree to let the child spend three hours with the non-custodial parent on the child’s birthday. Couples can also agree to both be present for the child’s first day of school. Other religious holidays and special days such as the parents’ birthdays can also be negotiated.
When crafting a holiday parenting time schedule, one consideration to take in mind is whether or not each parent wants to travel with the children to visit relatives for a holiday. Consider Thanksgiving when one parent wants to take the children for a celebration with grandparents who reside in another state. That parent may want the entire holiday because of the needed travel time, as opposed to exchanging the child in the middle of the break.
The exchange time might be the day before Thanksgiving, which is one of the busiest travel days of the year. Under those circumstances, it may make more sense for the children to spend that entire holiday weekend with the traveling parent. This should be taken into account when drawing up the holiday schedule.
In some instances, a parent must work during a holiday. For example, one parent may be a nurse who finds out the week before Thanksgiving that he has to work. In that case, parties should consider whether or not they want to include provisions that require that parent to offer the other parent that holiday because they cannot care for the children. Where that work obligation exists, a provision can be put into the holiday schedule agreement or order that the custodial parent has the right of first refusal in the event that there is a work conflict.
Splitting time up between parents is especially difficult with young children. When the children become teenagers, they will have more decision-making power over what they want to do and who they want to see during school holidays.
Besides the negotiated and agreed-upon schedules, there are several apps on the market that can be used to keep holiday co-parenting on track. These apps are designed to help parents avoid scenes where one parent doesn’t show up on time with the children for the other parent. Some of the most common apps or tools used by parents include 2houses, Amicable, Coparently, Our Family Wizard and Google Calendar.
When abiding by an agreed-upon schedule, families of divorce can ensure that holidays go smoothly for everyone and become the best of times, full of tradition and fond memories for the children and both their parents. Above all, parents should be flexible and strive to put their children’s needs at the forefront of any holiday schedule or conflict resolution.