If you are going through a separation or a divorce, you might be concerned about where your children will spend the holidays. Chances are good that holidays were treasured events in your home when you and your child’s parent were together, and now that might be about to change. Determining which parent has the children on which days can be difficult, but there are ways to make it fair and non-traumatic for both parents and the child. Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you make these decisions with your ex.
Who Has Custody?
The first consideration will be who has custody of the child. If one parent has sole custody, then it might be assumed that the child will spend most or all holidays with that parent. This is not usually going to be the case, however, since many custody agreements will indicate that holidays are rotated. When this happens and a non-custodial parent misses his or her visitation because the child is spending a holiday with the custodial parent, it is up to the parents to decide to simply resume the regular schedule after the holiday or to make up the time at another time.
When parents have joint custody, the same rotation rules generally apply. Holiday time agreements trump regular parenting time with each parent. Check your divorce decree and custody agreement to see when each parent will have the child.
Splitting Up the Major Winter Holidays
While there are many holidays throughout the year, the ones that tend to evoke the most emotion when it comes to splitting the children are those that take place in the late fall and winter. They generally include Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. The general rule of thumb is that if both parents celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, then these will alternate from year to year. Thus, the child will go with the father on Thanksgiving and the mother on Christmas one year, and the mother on Thanksgiving and the father on Christmas the following year. When both parents celebrate Hanukkah, the nights can be equally split between both households, with the first night alternating each year.
In cases where one parent celebrates Hanukkah and the other celebrates Christmas, this is fairly simple to sort out, as the child will celebrate each parent’s special day or days with that parent. On years when both major holidays fall at the same time, there will need to be some compromises made. Since Hanukkah spans eight days, it will often be the case that the child will still spend Christmas with his or her parent who celebrates it and can celebrate other nights of Hanukkah with the parent celebrating that holiday.
Other families choose to split both Thanksgiving and Christmas by hours. For example, the child might spend Thanksgiving with the father until 3:00 pm and with then go to the mother’s house. Or the child might spend Christmas morning with the mother and Christmas evening with the father.
Deciding Which Holidays Are More Important to Which Parent
There are going to be some holidays that are more important to one parent or the other. In these cases, it is fine to come to an agreement between the two of you that is not a strictly alternating schedule. For example, if one parent has a big family reunion every 4th of July and the other parent usually has to work that day, it is reasonable for the child to go with the celebrating parent each year. The other parent might choose another holiday, such as Halloween or Labor Day, to be theirs each year.
Mother’s Day is typically spent with the mother, and Father’s Day is typically spent with the father. In a situation of a divorced same-sex couple where there are two mothers or two fathers, these days will alternate in most cases.
What About Birthdays?
The child’s birthday will normally also alternate when possible. One year, the child will spend his or her birthday with one parent, and the next year, with the next parent. This can vary because if a birthday takes place on a school day, the parents might agree that one parent will take him or her out to dinner that evening and the other parent might have a party for the child on the weekend. Or one parent will have a party the weekend before the birthday and the other parent will do it the weekend after.
Parents often want to see their children on their own birthdays, too, so unless both parents share a birthday, which is rare, this should not be a problem. If the two of you do share a birthday, then you will need to alternate each year or work it out some other way.
Making Compromises and Non-Traditional Solutions
Where your child spends each holiday will usually be included on the court-ordered custody agreement. Nothing is stopping the two of you from deciding to alter plans one year or the next or one holiday or the next. You do not have to go back to court to have it formally changed if you can agree, in writing, to change the visitation for upcoming holidays. If you cannot agree, however, then you must stick to what the court has decided until and unless you go back to court to have it changed.
There are also non-traditional solutions you might consider. For example, some divorced couples decide to spend some of the holidays together for the benefit of their children. This is not possible in every case, of course, and you should not feel guilty if it is not a safe or healthy option for you. But if you and your ex-spouse are amicable, you might decide to have Thanksgiving dinner together or to both take your child trick-or-treating on Halloween.
National Family Solutions can help mothers and fathers work out these types of disagreements in a way that is fair and beneficial to all parties involved, especially the children. Contact us to see if we can help you.