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Holidays With Your Children When Divorced

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As holidays’ plans approach, many families may think about this holiday visitation schedule as much as the decorations, presents, and all other related preparations.  Whether you like it or not, divorce is all about making compromises, regardless of the season. Everything from where you live to how much of your money you’ll get to keep is up for scrutiny, and things only get more complicated when children are in the picture—an issue most people aren’t too excited to compromise on. Holidays only complicate things, as neither parent wants to spend important holidays without seeing their children.

While it may be difficult to get exactly what you want 100 percent of the time, there are a number of approaches that divorcing couples can take to ensure that child custody holiday and visitation schedules are distributed equally and fairly.  It can be highly beneficial to cordially discuss a child custody holiday schedule in advance. In other words, you and your ex decide on the holidays that matter to you and your family.

These days may include but are not limited to:
Your child’s birthday
Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving weekend
Christmas holiday month
Three-day holiday weekends (MLK Day, President’s Day, etc.)

Once you and your spouse formally agree on the holidays that matter to you and your family, you can then set up a holiday visitation schedule.  Unless one parent is deemed legally unfit, the following are some of the more common approaches to handling holidays in a visitation schedule.

Alternating holidays: In this approach, parents switch off custody during every other holiday. For example, if your ex-wife had your children on Thanksgiving, you would get to have them on Christmas. In some alternating holiday custody agreements, the schedule can reverse year to year so that you get to spend one of each holiday with your children within that two-year period (ex. If your wife had your child on their birthday last year, you would get them this year).

Schedule early holiday visits: Another popular compromise in creating a child custody holiday schedule is to choose two days within a holiday season and split custody so that both parents can have their day to celebrate with their child. For instance, one parent might get Christmas Eve and the other would get Christmas Day. This approach works well for parents who live in the same city or state and can help your children get the most out of a holiday season.

Split the holiday in half: Similarly, some parents choose to divide major holidays in half, with one parent getting the child during the day, and the other taking custody at night. Though potentially stressful, this approach can help your child maintain relationships with both sides of their family and allows everyone to get at least some of what they want out of the holiday each year.

Assign fixed holidays: In some cases, parents may decide that certain holidays will be consistently spent with one parent over the other. For instance, mom throws better parties so she keeps birthdays, but Dad and his family are more religious, so they keep Easter. While this is not the most common type of child custody holiday schedule, it can be a logical choice for families with geographical or religious differences that need to be taken into consideration. Additionally, these setups can be requested based on the overall preferences of the child. If you know your child has a special tradition with their mom or dad revolving around a certain holiday, it may make more sense to just let that parent have that holiday outright.

Standard Possession Order (SPO): Most custody court cases include an SPO, which is a court-ordered procedure for separated parents who cannot agree upon a schedule to divide visitation time with their child (3+ years of age). The basic terms of the order allow for the noncustodial parent to visit every other odd weekend of the month (starting from the first weekend), Thursday evenings for a few hours, alternating holidays and approximately 30 consecutive days during summer vacation. These rules pertain to separated parents who live within 100 miles from each other. Special stipulations apply to parents who live more than 100 miles apart and for children under three years old. Note: The terms can be renegotiated if parents can agree upon a better schedule for all parties, especially if it is in the best interest of the child.

Reaching a fair holiday visitation schedule requires some patience, compromise and putting what's best for your child first.