How Holidays Work in Divorces and Child Custody Cases
By Grant T. Moher, Esq.
A New Year is almost upon us, and couples going through a separation or divorce this season are likely experiencing the difficulty of agreeing to holiday custody and visitation agreements. With a New Year comes another 12 months of special days that divorcing, or divorced, parents have to determine how to manage – from Christmas, to Federal holidays that result in long weekends, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and President’s Day, to children’s birthdays and summer school breaks.
As you plan for the year ahead, this blog will help you better understand how holiday visitation schedules work for these unique situations.
- Federal Monday Holidays
Often, parents want to evenly divide Federal Monday holidays (e.g. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.) – even if the weekend that Monday follows was spent with the other parent. Unless there is a very important reason for this, it is typically better for children to spend Federal Monday holidays with the parent with whom they spent that adjacent weekend. This facilitates out-of-town travel and activities that may run from the weekend into the holiday and makes it easier on and less disruptive to the children.
- Children’s Birthdays
Sometimes parents want language in an agreement obligating both parents to share time with the children on their actual birthdays or celebrate the birthdays together. There are important factors to consider to make this approach work. If parents are getting along well enough to have a joint birthday party for the children, they don’t need an agreement to force them to do it. If parents do not have such a relationship, forcing a joint party or negotiating a split of time on the actual day can result in a tense and unpleasant atmosphere. If parents aren’t on terms that allow them to have an amicable joint celebration, a better scenario is for each parent to have an individual celebration for the child on his or her time, such as on the nearest weekend.
Commonly during summers, parents will each have some uninterrupted weeks with the children. Depending on the level of cooperation between the parents, agreements may need to include provisions for how those weeks will be determined. In situations where parents are likely to disagree on weeks, there are several methods of resolving disputes. For example, some choose to state that in odd-numbered years (2019, 2021, etc.) one parent’s chosen weeks take precedence, and in even-numbered years the other parent’s preferences take precedence.
Another possibility is to require that a parent’s week start and end on a particular day that encompasses his or her already-scheduled weekend. The upside to this approach is that it is impossible for the parents to schedule weeks that conflict with each other. The downside is that a major event (e.g. a wedding or family reunion) may fall outside of these potential weeks.
Since events come up, and other situations could occur that need advance planning, such as summer camps, I typically advise parents to give notice of their chosen weeks as early as reasonably possible in the New Year. There is nothing to guarantee both parents will agree to those weeks and that further issues won’t arise, such as when parents do not provide ample notice of their preferred weekends, language can be built into agreements to get ahead of this.
- Thanksgiving and the issue of three weekends in a row
Where parents have a regular schedule that involves alternating weekends and the custody schedule provides that Thanksgiving encompasses both the holiday and the weekend immediately following it, one party or the other can end up having three weekends in a row with the children. This happens if one parent’s Thanksgiving falls on the other’s weekend. Sometimes parents are fine with this. However, if they are not, the good news is there are multiple ways to solve this.
One way is to make Thanksgiving encompass only the Wednesday through Friday of the holiday and not the weekend. This solves the problem of three weekends in a row, but this may not be desirable when one or both parents customarily travel over the holiday and want the entire weekend to do so. Another option is to “reset” the schedule if it were to result in one parent having three weekends in a row, such that the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving weekend would switch to the parent who did not have the children over Thanksgiving weekend and the weekend immediately prior to it.
- Spring break
It is customary in custody schedules to make provisions for spring break. Children and their parents often travel during this week as it is normally the longest break schools have between winter break and summer recess. Some custody schedules alternate the entirety of spring break each year and some schedules split the spring break in half, with each parent having time with their children. Whether you choose to alternate or split spring break, it is critically important to define exactly which days spring break covers. Most school calendars define spring break as the Monday through Friday of the week, leaving off the weekends. Thus, if the intention is to include the immediately preceding or following weekend, the custody schedule must clearly define this. The same is true if the custody schedule splits the spring break week in half; parents need to know what the start and end date is to calculate the halfway point.
Example of a Holiday/Summer Schedule:
While holiday/summer schedules can be adjusted in virtually any way, sometimes people want to begin with a generic template to give them an idea of how to start. The following is a common schedule that can be modified, and can at least give a basic idea of how such schedules can look.
Note, the following is provided for example purposes only. Visitation schedules must be developed and tailored to meet the unique needs of each couple and their child(ren). It is important to seek support from a family law attorney with extensive experience counseling on the best visitation schedule for you.
A. Holiday Visitation
Holiday visitation shall be as set forth below. To the extent that the holiday visitation set forth below conflicts with the regular weekly custodial schedule, the holiday visitation shall supersede it.
- Spring Break
The parties shall alternate the children’s school Spring Break each year, defined as 5:00 p.m. on the Sunday after school releases until 5:00 p.m. the Friday before school reconvenes. Father shall have Spring Break in even-numbered years. Mother shall have Spring Break in odd-numbered years.
Thanksgiving shall be defined as the time school lets out on the last day of school before the Thanksgiving holiday until 5:00 p.m. on the Friday immediately following the holiday. Mother shall have the children for Thanksgiving in odd-numbered years. Father shall have the children for Thanksgiving in even-numbered years.
- Winter Break
The children’s winter break from school shall be divided in half. In odd-numbered years, Mother shall have the children for the first half of the winter break, and Father shall have children for the second part of the winter break. In even-numbered years, Father shall have the children for the first part of the winter break, and Mother shall have the children for the second part of the winter break.
- Fourth of July
The parties shall alternate the Fourth of July holiday each year, defined as 10:00 a.m. on the holiday until 10:00 a.m. the next morning. Mother shall have Fourth of July in odd-numbered years. Father shall have Fourth of July in even-numbered years.
- Father’s Day
In all years, Father shall have the children from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Father’s Day.
- Mother’s Day
In all years, the mother shall have the children from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Mother’s Day.
B. Summer Visitation
Each parent shall have the children for two (2) uninterrupted weeks during the summer, which may be taken consecutively. Each parent shall designate their week by April 1st each year. If the parties’ chosen weeks are in conflict, mother’s choice shall control in odd years and Father’s shall control in even years. Unless otherwise agreed in writing, weeks shall start at 5:00 p.m. on the Friday beginning a party’s weekend, and continue through the following Friday at 5:00 p.m.
Visitation schedules can be complicated and can cause tensions to run high amongst parents. The attorneys at Curran Moher Weis have decades of experience in guiding parents through negotiating a custody and visitation schedule that is optimal for parents and most importantly, their children. Contact us for more information, and check back on our blog regularly for the latest advice on this and other important divorce and custody matters.