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Splitting Custody Over the Holidays

Make the holidays happier for you and your children with these tips for splitting custody.

How should co-parents split custody over the holidays? 

Happy holidays can quickly become less merry and bright for you and your children if you and your co-parent haven’t agreed to a holiday custody schedule. Instead of being forced to make quick decisions under pressure, co-parents should be as proactive as possible in discussing and setting holiday preferences. Make your holiday custody schedule well in advance so everyone knows the plan and can prepare for co-parenting over the holidays

What are some standard custody schedules for holidays? 

In preparing for a discussion on organizing holidays in a custody schedule, co-parents often look for popular arrangements that are frequently used. These are some of the more common custody schedules that co-parents follow for holidays: 

  • Alternate holidays every other year: In even-numbered years, one parent has the kids for a specific set of holidays, and the other parent has the kids during odd-numbered years. 
  • Split holidays in half: If co-parents live close enough, they can split each holiday into two parts. Children would spend the morning and early afternoon with one parent and the late afternoon and evening with the other. 
  • Fixed holidays: For some parents, certain holidays have a special meaning. If one co-parent values Thanksgiving more while the other co-parent values the Fourth of July, they may agree that each parent celebrates their preferred holidays with the kids every year. 
There are many important days to parents and children outside of the nationally recognized holidays

How should I navigate setting a holiday schedule? 

Parents and children have many important days outside recognized or religious holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. There are also holidays that your state may require you to set as parent-time holidays within your parenting agreement

When you make your holiday custody schedule, consider all days that are important to you, including: 

  • Each child’s birthday 
  • Each parent’s birthday 
  • Extended family birthdays, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins 
  • Religious holidays like Good Friday or Passover 
  • Days when the kids are off from school 
  • Special anniversaries 
  • Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 
Communication and respect are key

What does a holiday custody schedule look like?

A sample holiday custody schedule might look like the one below:

Holiday Odd Year Even Year
Martin Luther King Day A B
President's Day Weekend B A
Mother's Day Weekend A A
Memorial Day Weekend A B
Father's Day Weekend B B
Fourth of July Weekend B A
Labor Day Weekend A B
Halloween Day B A
Thanksgiving Break A B
Christmas Break B A
Mother's Birthday A A
Father's Birthday B B
Child's Birthday A B

Generally, there are rules regarding precedence as well. For example, the holiday schedule might take precedence over regular custody schedules. Let’s say it is parent A’s weekend to have the kids, but the Christmas holiday falls on that weekend, and it’s parent B’s year to have the kids for Christmas. The holiday custody schedule takes precedence over the regular custody schedule, so parent B will get the kids this weekend even though they had them last weekend and will have them the following weekend. 

Tips on negotiating a holiday custody schedule 

The topic of adjusting shared parenting schedules can be challenging and emotional at times, so it is crucial to approach the conversation with empathy and an open mind. It’s beneficial for both parents to prioritize the days that are most important to them and start the discussion from there. 

Although each co-parenting situation should follow their most efficient communication methods, here are some tips to help you navigate that conversation: 

  • Do not involve the kids: Holiday schedule negotiations are not the time to tell your children to choose where they want to be for each event. Even though it seems like the natural choice, asking your children about their preferences can make them feel significantly pressured. Most of the time, avoiding any involvement from your children in these negotiations between you and your co-parent is best. 
  • Avoid requesting changes: Once you have a set holiday schedule, stick to it. Try to request changes to the plan only when it is necessary. If your holiday schedule is specified as part of your parenting agreement, be prepared that your co-parent may not agree to your requested change. Unless you want to go to court and request a modification to your parenting plan, you won’t be able to force them to make the change. 
  • Be reasonably flexible: On the flip side, if your co-parent requests a change to the holiday schedule, don’t immediately say “no” out of spite. You never know when you may need to make a similar request. Whether relatives drop in or work schedules change with little to no notice, life sometimes happens unexpectedly. Communication and respect are essential when splitting custody over the holidays. 
  • Try to focus on the positives: Whether it’s your first holiday as a co-parent or your fifth, coping with split custody on special days can be difficult. While it’s difficult to not have your children with you during every holiday, remember that your children have two loving parents who each want to spend time with them. On the same note, your children want to spend time with each of their parents. Enjoy your holiday time when you have it, and do not pressure your kids or make them feel guilty when you are apart. Try focusing on self-care efforts that can help you and your family members navigate the holidays.  

How TalkingParents helps co-parents through the holidays and beyond 

Once custody and holiday schedules are set, they can easily fall through the cracks and cause unnecessary confusion in shared parenting situations. Whether you’re co-parenting during the holidays or a typical week, a communication service like TalkingParents can help co-parents keep track of schedules, conversations, and more. 

Parents can add custody exchange dates, holiday schedules, and more to a Shared Calendar that both parents can access. All event uploads, edits, and deletions by either parent are tracked and timestamped for transparency, enabling both parents to always access the most updated calendar version. 

If you want to discuss potential changes to your schedule, you can communicate with your co-parent through Secure Messaging, phone calls, and video calls. Every call attempt, completed call, and message is timestamped and cannot be edited or deleted, ensuring each parent has an unaltered view of their communications that they can reference at any time. 

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