The question of where to spend the holidays can be a tough one even for intact families – couples often have trouble agreeing on which set of in-laws to visit on Thanksgiving or Christmas. But when a couple gets divorced, the question becomes which parent the children will spend the holiday with, and by extension which grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins the kids will see during the holiday seasons.
Divorced parents often feel a lot of pressure to make sure that they have the kids on holidays because their own relatives want to spend time with their kids – they want to see them in cute Halloween costumes or watch them open and try out toys and clothes bought as holiday presents. But often, both parents can’t have their children on the same holiday. How can you determine who gets which holiday with the kids?
What Is the Custody Arrangement?
Holiday arrangements are usually spelled out in the custody arrangements for precisely this reason. The holidays are important for the children, both parents, and other members of the family as well, and it’s impractical and unfair to everyone to have to fight about it every time a holiday comes up. So if you have a custody arrangement already in place, it’s probably going to specify which parent will be with the children on a given holiday.
Even if you have been given sole custody, it’s not a given that your children will be with you on every holiday. Often, parents who do not have custody are given visitation rights, and that includes visitation on holidays. One common arrangement is to rotate holidays. One year, you might have your children for Halloween and Christmas, the next year, your ex might have those holidays and you’ll have Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
In other cases, parents might agree to a different schedule based on what’s most important to them. Children who have one Jewish and one Christian parent may celebrate Hanukkah with one and Christmas with the other. A parent who feels strongly about the 4th of July may take that one every year, while the other parent opts for always being the Halloween parent.
Coming to an Agreement
If you’re still in the process of working out your custody agreement as the holidays approach, you may feel some pressure to come up with an arrangement. Usually, parents are allowed to come up with a solution to holiday custody and visitation that they agree on and submit it to the court. If parents can’t come to an agreement on their own, the court will decide for them, but the court’s decision may not be exactly what you or your partner would have wanted. It’s worth at least trying to put in the effort to come up with a compromise.
If you and your ex live in close proximity to each other, it may be possible for children to spend some holidays with both parents. For example, your children could trick-or-treat on Halloween with one parent shortly after school lets out, then attend a Halloween party with the other parent later in the evening. Parents can coordinate holiday dinners so that the children can eat one meal with one parent closer to lunchtime and another with the other parent closer to dinner time.
Holidays that span more than one day, like New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, can be divided evenly between parents. Some divorced parents – usually those who remain on good terms – even opt to spend some or all of the holidays together so that their children can easily spend time with both parents.
However, in cases where it’s not possible or practical for children to spend all or most holidays with both parents, compromises have to be made. You can begin by figuring out which holidays are most important to you and why. Decide what you think is important to fight for and what you’re most willing to compromise on, and compare notes with your partner.
You may want to start the discussion with the holidays that are less important to your family. If you can come to an agreement about Labor Day and Columbus Day first, it might make it easier to approach negotiations about higher-stakes family holidays, like Thanksgiving, or holidays that are heavy on fun parent-child events and activities, like Halloween.
Birthdays and Parents’ Days
Typically, courts award parents visitation on their own birthdays if that’s what they want, so you should be able to be with your child on your birthday and your ex should be able to be with your child on your ex’s birthday. Children’s birthdays are treated like other types of holidays – if you can’t spend it together with your child or split the day in half between you, you’ll most likely end up alternating years. So if you have your child on their birthday this year, your ex will have them the following year.
If you feel very strongly about having your child on a particular birthday, like the thirteenth or sixteenth, then you can try to make sure that you end up with odd or even years in order to make that happen, but keep in mind that your ex may feel strongly about the same milestone years. You almost certainly don’t want to end up fighting with your ex on your child’s birthday, so be open-minded and willing to consider out-of-the-box solutions for at least this one special day of the year.
When it comes to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, typically the parent who’s being celebrated gets to have the child. So mothers have visitation on Mother’s Day and fathers have it on Father’s Day. This can get trickier when same-sex couples split up or divorce, however.
In these cases, parents usually end up just alternating the applicable day – so a child with two mothers will spend Mother’s Day with one parent on even years and with the other parent on odd years. However, sometimes one parent will adopt the unneeded holiday, so a child with two fathers might spend each Father’s Day with one parent, but celebrate another “Father’s Day” on what is usually Mother’s Day with the other parent.
Splitting up holidays can be one of the more difficult aspects of dividing custody. Holidays are important, most people associate them with family, and no one wants to spend them alone. Your best bet is to give yourself and your ex some grace, remain open to compromises and creative solutions and keep your child’s wellbeing and happiness foremost in your mind. This will help you come to an arrangement that works for everyone.