Deciding how best to split custody between two parents can be difficult, and holidays are often one of the points of contention between parents. After all, people want to be with their families on holidays, and divorce often means that someone will have to contend with spending at least some holidays away from their child – and that the child will miss at least one of their parents on holidays. The obvious answer is to divide up the holidays, but it’s often hard to imagine how the holidays could be split in a way that feels fair to everyone. In many cases, the holidays that are most important to one parent are the same holidays that are most important to the other parent as well. What’s more, parents are also often trying to take into account the wishes of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members who also want to spend time with the child on holidays. Take a look at some of the options for splitting custody for holidays and other important days.
One of the most common ways to divide holiday custody is to agree on alternating holidays in some way. One parent might get the children for Easter and Thanksgiving on even years, while the other parent has the children for Christmas and New Year’s. Then on odd years, they switch. This way, each parent has their children for some of the big holidays every year, and they never go more than one year without their child for any given holiday.
An option that works well when parents prioritize different holidays is to simply assign fixed holidays. For example, if one parent is Jewish and the other is Christian, it should be relatively simple to assign Hanukkah permanently to the Jewish parent and Christmas permanently to the Christian parent. Of course, some years these holidays will intersect, but this is a topic that you might have also dealt with as part of as interfaith marriage.
Parents who live in the same area – or at least tend to spend holidays in the same area – may want to consider simply splitting up the so the child spends time with both parents on every holiday. One parent gets the first half of the day and the other parent gets the second half. This works well when everyone is in close proximity to each other, but if the parents’ homes or holiday celebrations are too far apart, it can get complicated, as traveling time can begin to eat up actual time spend celebrating the holiday. Splitting up the holiday can also work well when holidays last multiple days. For example, parents might divide Hanukkah so that each parent gets four days. One parent might take Christmas Eve and the other Christmas Day. For Thanksgiving, one parent might take the Thursday and following Friday while the other parent takes the weekend following Thanksgiving.
For some holidays, it can make the most sense to simply celebrate twice – once with each parent, regardless of the actual date of the holiday. Parents can simply let the custody schedule play out normally, letting whichever parent would normally have the child on the official holiday date celebrate that day, and the other parent can celebrate with the child on their next scheduled visit. Or, parents can actually designate a date for the second holiday – one parent celebrates Christmas on the 25th and the other celebrates on the 30th. In this scenario, parents could alternate years so that they each get the official holiday every other year.
Children’s birthdays can be even trickier than religious holidays or national holidays. This is a day when both parents generally want to be with their child, and even more importantly, the child usually wants to spend time with both parents.
Divorced parents who get along well can often agree to share the day in some way, whether that means celebrating twice in the same day with each parent in their own home, or even hosting a birthday party together in one parent’s home or in some other location, like a park or restaurant. However, when parents live too far apart for the child to reasonably travel between homes on the birthday, or when the parents can’t get along well enough to coordinate a birthday party, other alternatives must be considered. Often in those cases, the solution is to alternate years, with one parent getting even birthdays and one parent getting odd birthdays.
When it comes to the parents’ birthdays, the best plan is usually to let each parent have time with their child on their own birthday.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
For opposite-sex parents, the obvious solution is to let the mother have parenting time on Mother’s Day and the father have parenting time on Father’s Day. However, same-sex parents who divorce have a more difficult time. One solution is to treat both days as “Parents’ Days” – for example, when a child has two mothers, they may spend time with one of their mothers on Mother’s Day and the other mother on Father’s Day, treating the Father’s Day as an alternate Mother’s Day instead. Alternatively, divorced same-sex couples can alternate years or split the day.
Three Day Weekends
Holidays that create a 3-day weekend because of Monday school and office closings are often good opportunities for short trips and other events. So, for holidays such as Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, or Labor Day, the question is often how to handle it when one parent would normally have the child on the weekend, but the other parent would normally have them on Monday. One option is to simply give the child an extra day with whoever would normally have them that weekend. Another option is to count up all of the three-day weekend holidays in the year and divide them between parents, even if that occasionally disrupts the normal weekend order.
Often, there is no perfect solution that leaves everyone feeling like they got enough holiday time with their child. Split holidays are one of the realities of divorce, however, and both parents should be realistic about how much holiday time they can expect and about the fact that their child will want to spend some of their holiday time with the other parent. Talk to your legal advocate at National Family Solutions if you need help figuring out how to fairly allocate holidays while you are in the process of getting divorced.