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During the holiday season, it can be trying to figure out how to best meet the needs of your child when you are going through a divorce or separation. Who will have the child for each of the major holidays? There are quite a few factors to consider when establishing a holiday visitation schedule that works for everyone involved.

Furthermore, if you and your ex are not on the same page, this can make things even trickier. Read on for some tips on how to determine who your child spends the holidays with this year and in the years to come.

Use Your Parenting Plan to Create a Holiday Visitation Schedule

Ideally, you and your ex-spouse will have already put together a parenting plan. This is a document that is negotiated by both parents and can be enforced by a judge. In the plan, you’ll include where the child will live, when they’ll visit the parent that they don’t live with full-time, who transports them from house to house, and so on.

You can also stipulate who pays for which items, who will arrange medical care, and where the child will go to school as well as where your child spends the holidays. Within the parenting plan, you should have some provision for where the child will spend holidays.

This can be handled in a number of ways, but if it’s in writing and especially if a judge has approved it, then the plan should be followed. If it’s been approved by a judge and you would like to make changes, you might need to go back to court.

Think About Your Child’s Best Interests

There might be some considerations that would clearly indicate that it’s that the child spends the holidays in one place or the other. For example:

    • If one parent celebrates Christmas and the other celebrates Hanukkah, then it’s probably most beneficial for the child to celebrate both holidays with the respective parent.
    • If one parent lives far away, then it might not be feasible for a young child to travel to him or her. In this case, the parent might travel to the child.

Consider what types of factors might make the holidays harder for your child and do your best to minimize them. Remember that meeting the best interest of the child is your top priority when determining where the child spends the holidays.

Consider Whether Anyone Is Traveling

Speaking of travel, if either parent is traveling during the holidays, that might affect who has the child. If it’s the non-custodial parent traveling, then he or she might not be able to simply take the child away for a week or two. If it is the custodial or residential parent, it might not be agreeable to the other parent to not see their child on the holiday because they are traveling.

This clause about where the child spends the holidays might already be addressed in the parenting plan if there is one. If one parent wants to travel with the child this Christmas, perhaps the other parent can travel with him or her the following year. When it comes to planning vacations, they need to be worked out around holidays when feasible and desired.

Establish a Fair, Reasonable Holiday Visitation Schedule

Keep in mind that the primary concern needs to be the best interest of the child when determining where the child spends the holidays. No divorce custody or visitation agreement is going to be exactly split down the middle, even if that’s what the parents would like to achieve.

So when you are deciding who the child spends the holidays with, keep in mind that it might or might not be best to split the holiday itself in half or to have the child sleep at the home that he or she is visiting rather than the home that is “home.”

With that being said, here are a few ways that parents might consider splitting up the winter holidays (assuming both parents celebrate Christmas; if one or both don’t celebrate, then you can tailor this to the holidays that you do celebrate):

    • Have the child spend Christmas Eve with one parent and Christmas Day with the other. This year, Christmas Day is on a Monday, so if one parent is off from work on Tuesday and the other has to work, that is a factor that might help them decide which night the child spends at which house.
    • Have the child wake up and spend Christmas morning and have lunch at one parent’s house and go to the other parent’s house in the early afternoon to open gifts and have dinner.
    • Have one parent keep the child for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the other parent keeps the child for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
    • Have one parent host Christmas the weekend before the holiday itself and the other parent on the actual Christmas Day.

As long as the child gets to celebrate the holidays with each parent, it should not matter much if one is celebrating a few days early or a few days late. It might not be your ideal situation, but if there are a lot of miles between you and your child, it might be the least disruptive to him or her.

Make a Plan With the Rest of the Year in Mind

If you are having a hard time coming to an agreement about the winter holidays this year, it might be best to sit down and figure out next year’s calendar while you’re on the topic. There’s no sense in dragging out the process every time a holiday comes up. Consider sitting down with your child’s other parent and coming up with a plan for:

    • Easter
    • Mother’s Day
    • Father’s Day
    • Independence Day
    • Halloween
    • Thanksgiving
    • December holidays

This is also beneficial because it will allow you to make travel plans and plans with extended family members in advance of the holidays themselves. If you know that you are going to have your child the week before Easter rather than on the holiday itself. For example:

You might be able to take advantage of less expensive flights and other arrangements by booking early. This type of calendar also gives your older child something to count on as the year goes by. Keep in mind that if you cannot decide how to break up the holidays with your ex, a judge might need to decide.

This could result in a scenario that you don’t want, so do your best to work with your child’s other parent if possible to determine the best solution to the question, “where should my child spend the holidays?” Talk to your legal resource group about ways that you can settle these situations without having to go to court.

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