This post expands on earlier posts: What is Child Custody?, Customizing Your Case – Physical Custody & Parenting Time, Customizing Your Case – Legal Custody, and Customizing Your Case – Parenting Time Schedules.
Holidays are special occasions, often marked by family gatherings and traditions. When separating, parents are faced with re-envisioning holidays, family gatherings, and traditions.
While separation is an ending, it is also a beginning. So, too, with holidays. All too often, though, parents do not give enough thought to customizing their children’s holiday schedules to account for the practical realities of reinvented holidays.
There is no unified, mandatory holiday schedule. No cookie cutter. Different families celebrate different holidays. Families who celebrate the same holidays do not celebrate the same way or at the same exact times. There is infinite variety.
Why, then, do many parents gloss over a holiday schedule for their children? Perhaps because it is too painful. Perhaps because change is difficult. Perhaps because it’s just one thing too many during the stress of separation and divorce. Perhaps because it’s just an assumption that holidays will be alternated. Or divided. Or split. Or shared.
While all that may be, giving holidays a little thought at the start goes a long way toward parents and their children developing rich, albeit reshaped, family holiday traditions.
First, consider what holidays you and the other parent observe – religious, federal, and others. Make a list. If each parent celebrates different holidays, then make a list for yourself and the other parent.
Second, look at your children’s school calendar. Look at the days off from school. In an agreement, holidays can be defined any way you and the other parent decide. Holidays can include winter and spring breaks, days off from school for holidays you do not observe, professional days, early dismissal days, and other days off/early dismissal days attached to holidays. Add to your list the other types of days you want to plan for.
Third, think about where your children’s extended family is located – on your side and the other parent’s. Do holidays include family? Is travel required? For which holidays? Who is likely to travel where? Will travel be necessary? Update your list, for both parents.
Fourth, think about when your family’s traditions fall for a particular holiday. On the holiday eve? On the holiday? On the day after? Can these traditions be preserved? Add to your list, for both parents.
Fifth, with that information in hand, start thinking about a specific holiday schedule, beginning with when the holiday periods start and end – which days are included in the holiday, plus start and end times. For example, is Thanksgiving just Thanksgiving day? Thanksgiving day & Friday? Or, from school dismissal until school drop off the Monday after?
Be specific. Be practical. Be fair. Be child-focused. Just as you can only be in one place at one time, so too for your children. Just as you can only comfortably eat one Thanksgiving dinner, so too for your children. Just as you can only comfortably travel so much, so too for your children.
Once you have a specific holiday wish list in mind, this becomes either the starting point for settlement discussions or a reference point for the court at trial when requesting a holiday schedule.
Thinking about holidays is a challenge in the midst of a separation and divorce. However, putting thought into it lays the foundation for new family traditions and reshaped family gatherings for your children for years to come.
Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke and University of Baltimore School of Law. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law. You can follow her on Linked In, Facebook, LindsayParvis.com, and subscribe to her Newsletter for discussion, news, and developments in Maryland family law.