Holiday Cheer & Custody Schedules
Holidays often present dilemmas to divorced parents about who “gets” the children for the actual day. Parents argue over which parent will spend time with the children on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. It is easy for the parents to engage in a semantic tug-of-war as they verbally go back and forth about how the holidays will be divided up. The one thing they both need to remember is to make their decisions based on what is in the best interest of the children.
The first step is to look at the actual custody agreement that was signed at the time of the divorce. Usually, the agreement spells out which parent the children spend the holidays with. If something has come up that makes the original custody agreement unworkable, it must be changed with a court order.
Experts recommend that former spouses work together to determine a holiday arrangement that meets the needs of the children. Some suggestions may be helpful.
- How is each holiday celebrated by each parent and that parent’s extended family? If opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning is extremely important to one parent, but not so important to the other, parents should be able to work together to see that the holiday schedule that will be the most meaningful to the children is the one they can agree on.
- Parents should be able to accommodate the holiday schedule and not insist that the parent time with the children has to be on the absolute specific date of the holiday. Maybe a new holiday tradition could be established whereby one parent has the day after the holiday to be a special day. For example, the day after Thanksgiving can be designated as the special day when extended family members get together. A special meal is prepared and the evening can be dedicated to watching a special holiday movie or to playing games.
- Some holidays can be divided so that the children have the night before the holiday and breakfast the next day with one parent. Then go at lunch time with the other parent.
The key is to compromise. This may be an extremely difficult thing for divorced parents to do, but when both parents keep in mind what is best for the children, compromise becomes easier.
It is important to keep the holiday times special for the children. Children should not feel like there is a contest going on between their parents. They should not be asked where they want to spend the holidays. But, when the parents have agreed on a holiday schedule, the children should be informed so they can plan ahead and know what the schedule is. That way, they can pleasantly anticipate what the holidays will bring without having to be concerned about where they will be.
If there is a reason that you want to have your children with you for a holiday celebration and your ex-spouse will not agree to it and it is not provided for in your original custody order, you may need to go back to court to see if you can persuade the judge to accommodate your request.
Start planning your holiday arrangements as early as possible. This will avoid last minute haggling and provide the children with the knowledge they need as to how they will spend their holidays.