Creating a Co-Parenting Plan: Holiday and Vacation Options

Creating a Co-Parenting Plan: Holiday and Vacation Options

holiday co-parenting plan

Holidays are special family times when parents may recall their own childhood memories and pass on their favorite traditions to their children. After divorce, though, the emotions around what should be joyous times of the year can be difficult as parents realize that navigating the holidays with split custody will inevitably mean how they celebrate will have to change. You want to spend meaningful time with your child during holidays throughout the year, and your ex-spouse does as well. Most importantly, you want your children to experience the holidays as a time of happiness, not as something to dread when there is more tension and fighting than ever.

With foresight, cooperation, and compromise, it is possible to create a child custody holiday co-parenting plan with schedules that balances the needs of both parents, prioritizes your children’s well-being, and minimizes conflict. Here’s what you should consider as you look ahead to the year-end holidays and beyond:

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Why a holiday co-parenting plan is important

While it may be difficult to open a dialogue about holiday custody schedules, planning ahead is infinitely preferable to attempting to figure out when your child should be with which parent on the fly, when holiday stress is high and tempers may be even higher. A schedule negotiated in advance doesn’t just give you the time to think about which dates are important to you and what holiday arrangements will work for everyone—it also gives your child the security and comfort of knowing what to expect.

 A good holiday co-parenting schedule doesn’t have to be equal down to the minute. However, it should include meaningful time with each parent, balancing considerations like whether other family members will be visiting, the travel time between parents’ homes, and whether particular dates or holidays are more significant to one parent than the other. Keep in mind that once you set up your schedule, flexibility may be required if circumstances change, and the schedule itself may evolve from year to year. But a thoughtful holiday plan will set the foundation for everybody to have a better chance of truly enjoying special times throughout the year.

Dates to consider within your holiday co-parenting plan

What holidays should be included on your calendar depends to a certain extent on your individual family situation. Year-end holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are often the subject of considerable negotiation. You should also think about your child’s birthday, parents’ birthdays, three-day weekends, holidays that are specific to one parent (such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day), school breaks, and other similar dates. Paradoxically, looking at all possible days and times during holiday visitation negotiation can make it easier to find solutions than haggling over holidays one by one, as it can make overall opportunities for compromise more apparent.

For example, if you and your ex-spouse come from different religious backgrounds, it may be simpler to share certain holiday times. A Jewish spouse may get the kids for Hanukkah celebrations and the Passover seder, while a Christian spouse has custody on Christmas and Easter. Similarly, Coptic Christmas is celebrated on January 7 rather than December 25, making it more feasible for those from different Christian traditions to include their children in both families’ special days.

If there is no special significance to three-day weekends like Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Presidents’ Day weekend, you and your ex-spouse may elect to split them up based on where they fall in your regular custody schedule. But there may be reasons why you would want a particular holiday, like your extended family holding a reunion every Labor Day weekend. In a case like that, offering to always give your ex-spouse the kids on Memorial Day weekend so that you can have them on Labor Day weekend is a compromise that can preserve your family traditions while giving your ex-spouse similar time.

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Ways to share holidays

Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all plan that will fit all child custody holiday arrangements, there is no one right way to share each holiday. When you’re mutually deciding what works, make sure ensuring your child’s well-being during the holidays is the first consideration; it may not be possible to spend the actual holiday with your child each year, but you can create a plan that is fair in the long run.

What are some of the options you can consider? For single-day holidays like Thanksgiving, it may be less hectic to alternate holidays from year to year, with one parent having the children on Thanksgiving in even years and the other in odd years. Another possibility is to split the holiday, with the children spending part of the day with one parent and the rest with the other if distance and time permit. 

Other possibilities for splitting a holiday include having Christmas Eve at one house and Christmas Day at the other, or New Year’s Eve with one parent and New Year’s Day with the other. Or you may want to have an alternate celebration on another date entirely. For dividing vacation times, a schedule of family trips may help to guide a sensible division of time from year to year. Again, your family traditions may point the way to compromises that make sense for your situation, and you may even come to build new co-parenting holiday traditions to cherish.

Of course, documenting your holiday plan (e.g., on a shared calendar like this), is the best way to ensure that everyone has the same expectations and understanding of what has been agreed on. And if you and your ex-spouse are having trouble agreeing, it may be necessary to involve your family law attorney to help work out your custody schedule—the sooner, the better.

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Family law issues such as child custody can be complex and emotional. The team at Hart Ginney LLP has the experience and expertise to help you resolve today’s questions and create plans that will serve your family into the future. To schedule a consultation with an attorney, contact us today or fill out the form below.

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