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Splitting Custody Over the Holidays

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

How to Split Custody Over the Holidays

Happy holidays can quickly become stressful for both you and the children if you and your co-parent haven’t agreed to a holiday custody schedule. Don’t wait until the last minute to do this! Make your holiday custody schedule well in advance so everyone knows the plan and can prepare.

Common Ways Parents Split Custody Over the Holidays

Alternate holidays every other year: In even-numbered years, you get the kids for a specific set of holidays, and during odd-numbered years, your co-parent has them.

Split holidays in half: If you and your co-parent live close enough, split the holiday into two parts. Your child spends 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. You and your co-parent may agree that each parent celebrates the same holidays with the kids every year.

There are many important days to parents and children outside of the nationally recognized holidays

Which holidays are important to you?

There are many important days to parents and children outside of 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:

  • Your child’s birthday
  • Parents’ birthdays
  • Other relatives’ birthdays, such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and cousins
  • Religious holidays
  • Days when the kids are off from school
  • Religious holidays
  • Special anniversaries
  • Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

It’s beneficial for both parents to prioritize the days that are most important to them and start the negotiations from there.

Tips on the holiday custody schedule negotiation process:

Do not involve the kids: Holiday schedule negotiations are not the time to ask your children to choose where they want to be for each event. That is too much pressure to put on your child. Most of the time, it is not best to involve the kids in these negotiations between you and your co-parent.

Do not request a lot of changes: Once you have a set holiday schedule, stick to it. Try not to request changes to the schedule unless it is necessary. If your holiday schedule is set 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, you won’t be able to force them to make the change.

Be flexible when reasonable: 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. Life happens. Relatives drop in unexpectedly at the last minute. A change in work schedule may mean you have to leave town for a scheduled holiday. Communication and respect are key when it comes to splitting custody over the holidays.

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 mom’s weekend to have the kids, but the Christmas holiday falls on her weekend, and it’s dad’s year to have the kids for Christmas. The holiday custody schedule takes precedence over the regular custody schedule, so dad will get the kids this weekend, even though he had them last weekend and will have them the following weekend.

Try to focus on the positives when putting the holiday schedule together

While it’s difficult to not have your children with you during every holiday, remember that your children have two loving parents and they want to spend time with each of you. Enjoy the holiday time that you do have, and do not put any pressure on your kids or make them feel any guilt that you will be apart. If you’re feeling stressed this holiday season, check out our article, Self-Care Tips for Families Over the Holidays.

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