Handling Holiday Custody Schedules

Articles Of Interest

September 27, 2023Author: Grant Moher, Esq.

Handling Holiday Custody Schedules

In today’s article, we will be discussing a topic that can be challenging for divorced or separated parents – creating and implementing holiday custody schedules. We understand that this is a crucial issue that can affect not only the parents but also the well-being of the children involved. It is essential to approach holiday custody arrangements with sensitivity, open communication, and a focus on the best interests of the children.

Understanding the Importance of Holiday Custody Arrangements

Holidays are a special time for families to come together, create memories, and celebrate traditions. However, for separated or divorced parents, these occasions can become a source of stress and conflict when it comes to custody arrangements.

It is important to understand the significance of holiday custody arrangements and their impact on the children. Children thrive on stability and routine, and during the holiday season, disruptions to their usual schedules can be particularly challenging for them. By prioritizing their needs and providing them with a sense of stability during the holidays, you can help minimize any negative impacts of separation or divorce.

One way to ensure a smooth holiday custody arrangement is to establish clear communication and cooperation between both parents. This can involve discussing and planning the holiday schedule well in advance, considering the children’s preferences and desires, and being flexible and understanding with each other’s needs. By working together, parents can create a positive and harmonious environment for their children during the holiday season.

Tips for Co-Parenting During the Holiday Season

Co-parenting during the holiday season requires careful planning, flexibility, and effective communication between both parents. Here are some tips to help you navigate this challenging time:

  1. Start planning early: Begin discussing holiday custody schedules well in advance to allow for ample time to review and negotiate any necessary changes.
  2. Consider the children’s wishes: If they are of an appropriate age and maturity level, involve your children in the decision-making process. Listen to their preferences and take them into account when creating the schedule.
  3. Be flexible and compromising: The holiday season often brings unexpected events and can involve extended families and others. Be open to flexibility and willing to compromise if possible, as that can help avoid conflicts and ensure a smoother holiday experience for everyone.
  4. Communicate clearly and frequently: Maintain open lines of communication with your co-parent to discuss any changes or concerns. I generally recommend emails, but phone calls and text messages can be used as well.  A shared online calendar is often a great way to stay on the same page.
  5. Focus on the positive: Remember that the holidays are meant to be a time of joy and celebration. By maintaining a positive attitude and fostering a supportive co-parenting relationship, you can create a more pleasant holiday experience for your children.

Additionally, it can be helpful to establish a consistent routine for your children during the holiday season. Maintaining a sense of stability and predictability can provide a sense of security for them, especially during a time that may feel uncertain or different from their usual routine.

Furthermore, it is important to be mindful of your children’s emotional well-being during the holiday season. Encourage open communication with them and create a safe space for them to express their feelings. Validate their emotions and reassure them that it is normal to have mixed emotions during this time.

Creating a Holiday Custody Schedule that Works

When creating a holiday custody schedule, it is crucial to consider the unique needs and circumstances of your family. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Alternating holidays: One common approach is to alternate major holidays between parents on an annual basis. For example, one parent has custody of the children during Thanksgiving while the other parent has them for Christmas.
  • Splitting holidays: In some cases, it may be possible to divide a holiday period so that both parents get to spend time with the children on different days. For instance, one parent has custody on Christmas Eve, and the other parent has custody on Christmas Day.
  • Celebrating multiple holidays: Some families choose to celebrate holidays on different days to ensure both parents can be involved. For example, one parent may celebrate Thanksgiving on the actual day, while the other parent celebrates it the following weekend.
  • Creating new traditions: As a divorced or separated parent, it is an opportunity for you to establish new traditions with your children. These can be new activities, outings, or rituals that bring joy and a sense of togetherness during the holidays.
  • Consider distance and travel: If one parent lives a considerable distance away, it may be necessary to plan for longer visitation periods or make travel arrangements to ensure equal and fair access to both parents during the holidays.
  • Prioritize quality time: While it’s important to ensure equal access to both parents, it’s equally crucial to prioritize quality time spent with the children. Avoid overloading the schedule with too many transitions or obligations to allow for meaningful bonding and relaxation.
  • Some common issues often arise in creating holiday custody schedules.  A more in-depth look at these can be found here: https://www.curranmoher.com/how-holidays-work-in-divorces-and-child-custody-cases/

Communication and flexibility: Open and honest communication between parents is essential when creating a good holiday custody schedule. Both parents should be willing to discuss and negotiate the schedule to accommodate each other’s needs and the children’s preferences. Flexibility is also important, as unexpected circumstances or changes in plans may arise.

Consider the children’s ages and preferences: Younger children may benefit from shorter, more frequent visits, while older children may prefer longer periods of uninterrupted time with each parent. Older children can also have activities that can occur on both parents’ time with them. It is important to listen to the children’s input and consider their emotional well-being when making scheduling decisions.

Communication Strategies to Coordinate Holiday Plans with Your Co-Parent

Once your custody schedule is in place, you should still communicate with your co-parent to ensure everyone is on the same page. Effective communication is key to successfully coordinating holiday plans. Here are some strategies to help with communication:

  1. Establish a method of communication: Determine the most effective method of communication for both parents, such as text messages, emails, or a shared online calendar.
  2. Be respectful and considerate: Maintain a respectful and considerate tone when communicating with your co-parent. Keep in mind that the goal is to find mutually agreeable solutions that benefit the children.
  3. Get detailed: Make sure both parents know the specific details of each parent’s custodial time and any special considerations.
  4. Plan in advance: Whenever possible, plan ahead for any holiday events or activities. This allows both parents to anticipate and accommodate each other’s plans, minimizing potential conflicts.

Exploring Different Approaches to Dividing Holidays with Your Children

Every family is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dividing holidays. For example, in some cases separated or divorced parents decide to come together and celebrate holidays jointly. This approach can provide children with a sense of unity and minimize any potential feelings of conflict or division.  I generally advise, however, that joint celebrations not be mandated in the written custody schedule.  If parents are getting along well enough to coordinate a joint celebration, they don’t need a written mandate to require it.  If they are not getting along well enough to coordinate a joint celebration, it’s probably not a good idea to have a custody schedule that forces it.

Navigating the Challenges of Shared Custody During the Winter Holidays

Thanksgiving, Winter Break, and surrounding holidays often require extra attention when it comes to shared custody arrangements. Here are some specific challenges you might encounter during these festive seasons, along with strategies to navigate them:

  • Conflicting family traditions: When two parents come from different family backgrounds, conflicting family traditions may arise. In such cases, promoting flexibility and compromise can help accommodate both parents’ traditions and create new ones that cater to the changing family dynamic.
  • Logistical considerations: Planning for family gatherings, travel, and gift exchanges requires careful coordination between both parents. Sharing important information regarding schedules, travel arrangements, and gift preferences can help avoid confusion and ensure a smooth holiday experience.
  • Emotional support: The holiday season can bring up a range of emotions for both parents and children. Being attuned to your children’s emotional needs and providing them with a nurturing environment can help them feel supported and secure during potentially challenging times.

Establishing Traditions and Rituals for Children in Split Families During the Holidays

Traditions and rituals play a significant role in creating a sense of stability and belonging for children, especially in split families. Here are some ideas on how to establish new traditions and rituals during the holidays:

  • Create a holiday countdown: Building excitement around the upcoming holidays with a countdown can be a fun tradition that both parents can share. Consider creating a countdown list or a daily activity calendar.
  • It’s also a good idea to include in the calendar when the children are going to be with which parent.  Holiday custody schedules are typically different than the regular weekly schedule.  It’s usually helpful for children to know in advance where they’re going to be and when.
  • Involve children in planning and decorating: Encourage your children’s input and involvement in planning holiday decorations, menu ideas, or even special outings or activities. This fosters a sense of ownership and inclusion, giving them a sense of purpose and connection during the holidays.
  • Document memories: Help your children create lasting memories by encouraging them to keep a holiday journal or scrapbook. This can be a space to record special moments, reflect on their experiences, and express their feelings during the holiday season.
  • Give back to the community: Instill the value of giving back during the holidays by involving your children in charitable activities. Volunteering at a local shelter or participating in holiday donation drives can help them understand the true spirit of the season and create new traditions centered around compassion and generosity.

Managing Expectations: Helping Your Children Adjust to Holiday Custody Arrangements

Adjusting to holiday custody arrangements can be challenging for children. Here are some strategies to help manage their expectations and emotions:

  • Prepare them in advance: Communicate with your children about the upcoming holiday custody arrangements to help them understand and anticipate what to expect. As noted above, have a physical calendar showing when the children are going to be with which parent.  Children usually do better if they know in advance where they’re going to be and when.
  • Validate their emotions: Allow your children to express their feelings about the holiday custody arrangements openly. Listen attentively, validate their emotions, and provide reassurance that their feelings are normal and understandable.
  • Encourage open communication: Create a safe space for your children to express their thoughts or concerns about the holiday custody arrangements. Be receptive to their feedback and make adjustments where possible to accommodate their needs, within reason.
  • Promote consistency and routine: While holiday custody arrangements may disrupt the routine to some extent, try to maintain consistency in other aspects of your children’s lives. Stick to regular mealtimes, bedtime routines, and other familiar activities to provide a sense of stability and comfort.

Coping with Emotions as a Divorced Parent During the Holidays

The holiday season can be an emotionally challenging time for divorced or separated parents and can often bring negative feelings, especially when the children are with their other parent. Here are some strategies to help cope with these emotions:

  • Reach out for support: Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and family who can offer comfort and understanding during this time. Consider joining support groups, online forums, or seeking professional counseling to help navigate your emotions.
  • Take care of yourself: Engage in self-care activities that bring you joy and help reduce stress.
  • Remember that children focus more on their experiences with you then they focus on the specific holiday days themselves.  For example, if you don’t have the children on Christmas Day, and instead have “Christmas morning” in your house on a different day, the children will likely appreciate it just as they would if it was on the actual morning.
  • Create new traditions for yourself: Establishing new traditions for yourself can be empowering and help you redirect your focus during the holidays. Consider trying out new activities, exploring new places, or dedicating time to self-reflection and personal growth.
  • Express your feelings: Discussing your feelings with a trusted friend or seeking professional therapy can provide an outlet for processing your emotions. Allow yourself to grieve the loss of what once was and embrace the opportunity for growth and new beginnings.

Tips for Traveling with Children During Holiday Custody Exchanges

If holiday custody arrangements involve travel, here are some tips to ensure smooth and stress-free transitions:

  • Plan ahead: Make travel arrangements well in advance to secure the best deals and availability. This includes booking flights, accommodations, and any necessary transportation.
  • Prepare a packing checklist: Creating a comprehensive packing checklist can help ensure all essential items are packed and prevent last-minute stress. Involve your children in the process to help them feel included and responsible.
  • Communicate travel plans: Share detailed travel itineraries and contact information, including flight numbers, hotel addresses, and emergency contacts, with your co-parent. This ensures open lines of communication and allows for a smooth exchange and any necessary coordination.
  • Consider the children’s needs during travel: Take into account your children’s preferences and comfort during travel. Pack their favorite snacks, games, and comfort objects to help alleviate any travel-related anxieties and keep them entertained.

Finding Support: Building a Support Network for Emotional Guidance During the Holidays

Building a strong support network can provide emotional guidance and comfort during the holiday season. Here are some suggestions on how to do so:

  • Connect with other divorced or separated parents: Seek out support groups, online forums, or local organizations that cater to divorced or separated parents. Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can help create a sense of camaraderie and provide a platform for sharing advice and tips.
  • Lean on friends and family: Reach out to trusted friends and family members for emotional support. They can offer an empathetic ear or practical assistance during the holiday season.
  • Consider professional guidance: Individual therapy or counseling can provide valuable support and guidance during emotionally challenging times. A trained professional can help you navigate your emotions, develop coping strategies, and explore ways to make the holiday season more manageable.

Balancing Family Time and Personal Time During the Festive Season with Shared Custody

Finding a balance between family time and personal time during the festive season is crucial for your well-being. Here are some strategies to help you achieve a healthy balance:

  • Schedule personal time: Prioritize personal time for self-care and relaxation. Block out specific times on your schedule for activities that bring you joy and help you unwind.
  • Be present in the moment: When you spend time with your children, strive to be fully present. Put away distractions and engage in meaningful conversations and activities.
  • Don’t try to do too much. Kids appreciate your time and attention more than they appreciate most other things. Sometimes the best holiday memories come from unplanned moments.

Legal Considerations: Knowing Your Rights and Obligations in Holiday Child Custody Cases

  • When it comes to holiday child custody, it’s essential to be aware of your legal rights and obligations. The specific laws and regulations regarding custody can vary depending on your jurisdiction, so it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with these guidelines. Consult with a legal professional specializing in family law to ensure you understand your rights and obligations in holiday child custody cases.
  • An attorney can help you navigate any legal complexities, ensure your custody arrangements comply with local regulations, and address any concerns or disputes that may arise during the holiday season.


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