When going through a divorce or custody case, perhaps the easiest part for most people to agree on is custody plan for the holidays. In this article we will discuss some of the arrangements we commonly see as well as considerations to think about when creating your custody plan for the holidays.
You may have already read the last two articles covering custody plans where I wrote about establishing a summer plan, and creating a parenting plan for the school year respectively. This third part will only address issues relating to the other holidays.
By and away parties don’t usually argue over the details of the holiday custody plan much. In Oregon, courts almost always, absent some established safety concern, will evenly divide all major holidays. You will need a very, very good reason to convince a judge to do anything other than an equal split. the next few paragraphs relate to different holidays.
The first question is “what holidays do we specify in our parenting plan?”
The answer is that it depends on which ones are important to you. Most people divide Spring Break, Winter Break, Thanksgiving, and Easter, and Labor and Memorial Day. Some people however feel strongly that holidays such as Halloween, 4th of July, or the kids birthdays should be spelled out in your parenting plan. You will have to decide what your own priorities are, just know that whatever holidays you divide, should be done in a way that doesn’t favor one parent over the other.
I’ll take each holiday one a a time to briefly discuss.
Starting with Winter break, the typical way this is addressed is that Parent A would get the kids from their release from school until the midway point, and Parent B would get the second half. You would then switch this every other year, so Parent B goes first the second year and so on. I prefer to put into parenting plans that the exchange always occurs on the morning of December 26, but that is just my own personal preference.
Many parents do the exchange on the evening of Christmas Eve, and some do it during Christmas day. I would caution against doing the exchange on Christmas day, as the last thing the kids want to do is have their Christmas broken up to switch homes, it creates stress for them on an otherwise special day. Some families, particularly when you have extremely young children, just alternate Christmas day each year. Each family needs to decide what their priorities are, and make a holiday split accordingly.
For spring Break, families usually choose to either alternate the whole break each year, or else to divide the break at the midway point just like Christmas. There is no science to it, it just depends on whether families want that time to take a full week long trip, in which case they might prefer to split it every other year rather than taking half of the break each year.
Easter is typically divided on an alternating year basis, where one parent gets even years and the other gets odd years. Some families choose to split the day in half every year though. If Easter is not an important day for your family this could be similar to another important religious weekend you do find important.
Thanksgiving is also alternated annually. Some families choose to alternate the full 4 day school break for a given year, and others choose to just alternate the holiday itself. I’ve found the best solution for many people is to have Parent A get Thursday, and Parent B get Friday following the holiday, then swap those days the next year, but again that is only what I have found to work best.
Typically judges order that the custodial parent gets Labor day weekend each year to prepare the child for school, while the non custodial parent gets Memorial day weekend every year.
As for more optional holidays, in deciding whether you want to spell out a plan consider a few things. For the children’s birthday, it often can create stress for the child to try and fashion time out of their birthday to have to go have a parenting exchange. It usually is a good idea to limit parenting exchanges whenever possible, so sometimes it is better to just have a second celebration for the child on the off parent’s next parenting day.
The best advice is to decide what holidays are important to your family based on your own traditions and beliefs, and then balance those plans against the stress that extra exchanges may have on your children. There is no cookie cutter solution, and there are as many options as ideas so feel free to be creative about your holiday plan and seek legal advice if you have questions about how to best work it out for your custody plan.
Please read the rest of the series for more about parenting plans: part 1 Summer Time Custody Options for Divorced or Separated Parents, part 2 Creating a Parenting Plan for the School year, and the conclusion to the discussion covering custody and parenting plans.
You may also find the article 5 Tips for Surviving a Divorce or Custody Case During the Holidays useful.