Our clients, new and old, have difficulty navigating the stressful holiday season with their ex partners and children. It is not uncommon for a family to have developed traditions while they were together or for both parents to have family events they wish to attend with the children during the holiday season. The holidays can be an emotional period for many families and an uncertain custody schedule will only lead to additional stress. A well-written custody order can help resolve most of the issues that will arise during the holidays before they become a problem.

There are many things to consider as you develop a holiday schedule. First, you should consider those traditions which have become important to your family – but realize you may need to begin new traditions now that your family has separated. It may not be feasible to continue certain traditions. You will also want to consider the work schedules of both parents. Certainly if one parent typically works certain holidays it would make sense for the parent who does not work on those holidays to have the parenting time with the children. It will also be important to consider whether either parent’s holiday plans might involve out of town travel. The children’s Winter Break dates and pre-scheduled activities and events should also be reviewed. However, it is most important to keep your children’s best interests in mind as you try to work out a holiday custody schedule that will work for your family.

A holiday schedule can take many forms. Often families choose to alternate major winter holidays such as Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. For example, in even numbered years Mother may have Thanksgiving and Father may have that holiday in odd numbered years. Often the parent who does not have Thanksgiving may get Christmas Eve overnight. Therefore, in this scenario, Father might then have the Christmas Eve overnight in even numbered years and Mother in odd numbered years; however, there is usually a transition on Christmas Day so that both parents share the Christmas holiday. If the family celebrates Hanukkah, then those days which the families find important to celebrate should also be accounted for.

Alternating the holidays may not make sense for all families. If families live close to one another and do not typically travel long distances during the holidays, the parties may be able to split holidays with both parents receiving a portion of each special day.

Another option may be to simply split the children’s Winter School Break equally. This may make sense for families who wish to travel during the holidays or who may live greater distances apart.

In rare cases, when families get along exceptionally well, there may be a circumstance where the parties agree to spend time with the children together. This is certainly not typical and may not be an arrangement that can withstand the test of time as circumstances will continue to change which may alter the dynamics between the parties, making such situations impractical.

Another issue to keep in mind during the holiday season is that of snow days. There should be a plan in place to address who will be responsible for the children on the days in which school may be canceled or delayed due to inclement weather. Often the party who has custody on that particular day would be responsible to care for the children during the snow day or to find other appropriate childcare.

The above scenarios are examples of the ways in which many families craft their holiday custody schedules. Your holiday custody schedule should be customized to your family’s particular needs.

Whatever your holiday custody schedule, be sure it is specific as to dates and times. There should also be specific provisions including transportation and how the parties will communication regarding any proposed schedule changes.

Regardless of the schedule which is in place or upon which you may agree, do your best to keep the holiday spirit by being flexible with your co-parent when possible and always putting your children’s bests interests first.

If you are having custody issues during the holiday season, contact an experienced family law attorney who can help with the interpretation of existing custody orders and the negotiation or litigation of new or modified custody orders.