Home Search Services People Contact

What can we help you find? Enter your search above.

Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. Logo Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. Logo

What can we help you find? Enter your search above.

I understand
Sugarman Rogers Icon

October 20, 2022

Legal Update
Svana M. Calabro

Navigating Holiday Parenting Time Post-Separation

Close Video
Related Video

Video Title

Video Content

Featured Flourish

It is a scene all too familiar to separated and divorced parents. Two co-parents cannot stop arguing over who will have parenting time during the week of a major holiday. They both understandably want to spend time with their child during this special occasion, but cannot agree on how to make that happen. Tensions are high, and they both feel the other person is being completely unreasonable. 

No one wants to be in this situation, especially during the holiday season. So, what can co-parents do to reduce conflict around the holidays? 

Plan ahead.

To reduce stress for both parents and the child, the best thing to do is plan ahead. Many holidays fall on the same day every year, and parents know which holidays are the most important for their family. It is a recipe for disaster to wait until the week of a holiday to begin discussing parenting plans. Starting that conversation early gives both parents time to think about what they want and allows for logistical planning, such as buying plane tickets and securing time off from work. But more importantly, parents typically find it easier to have calm, collaborative discussions about holiday parenting time before they are in the throes of the holiday season. The same goes for special life events, such as weddings, funerals, graduations, and family parties. Deciding how to approach these events ahead of time can greatly reduce stress and arguments in the moment, and will hopefully enable the parties to reach an agreement that they both feel is fair. 

It is also helpful to plan ahead and account for any “missed” time that will occur due to a holiday schedule. Holiday parenting time typically replaces the regular parenting schedule, meaning one parent may get more or less parenting time in a holiday week than usual. For example, if a holiday falls on a Saturday, and one parent typically has their parenting time on Saturdays, they might miss some of their regularly scheduled time. To avoid excessive “missed” time, many co-parents agree to extra “make-up” parenting time either before or after the holiday. 

Get creative and stay flexible. 

With some creativity and flexibility, both parents can spend quality holiday time with their child. For instance, many parents will split a holiday in half, with one parent spending the morning with the child and the other spending the afternoon or evening with the child. Alternatively, to minimize transitions between parental homes, some parents choose to alternate holiday parenting time year-to-year, with one parent hosting the child for a holiday in odd-numbered years, and the other hosting on even-numbered years. Some parents even choose to have two celebrations for a holiday, with the child staying with one parent on the actual holiday and staying with the other parent for a second celebration on a different day. 

Of course, not everything goes according to plan during the holiday season. Work conflicts, illnesses, and other issues can throw a wrench in even the best of parenting plans. In that situation, being flexible can go a long way in tamping down hostility between co-parents. Co-parents who are able to keep their eyes on the goal, finding a way for everyone to spend time with the people they love during the holidays, will be more likely to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

Keep the discussion between the parents. 

Understandably, a parent may feel upset or disappointed if they cannot spend a holiday with their child. Regardless of how a parent feels, it is never a good idea to involve the child in discussions over holiday parenting time. While it is helpful to keep a child in the loop about holiday plans, it is not appropriate or productive to speak negatively about the other parent to the child. Doing so puts the child in the middle of the argument      and can cause the child to feel guilty or conflicted about spending time with either parent. When in doubt, it is better to stay focused on the child’s best interests. 

Recognize that children may be struggling too. 

Adjusting to a “new normal” can be difficult for everyone in the family. It is common for children to feel apprehension or grief during the first holiday season following their parents’ separation. Reassuring children that both parents love them and want them to have a great holiday can help alleviate some of those anxieties.  

If all else fails, go to court.

If co-parents absolutely cannot agree on a holiday parenting schedule, they can ask the Court to weigh in on the decision. Depending on whether the parties are in the middle of a divorce or already divorced, the judge can either issue an order to establish a new holiday parenting plan, or modify an existing one. As with any child custody decision, the judge will try to evaluate what is in the child’s best interests. In making that determination, the judge can consider various factors, including the child’s age and preferences, how much travel time would be involved in spending a holiday in a particular location, and whether one parent celebrates a holiday that the other does not. 

Co-parents should think hard before going to Court, and know that they are effectively sacrificing the ability to make a schedule on their own terms. There is also no guarantee that the Court will have time to schedule a hearing date before the holiday season, which may leave the parties in limbo. For these reasons, it is usually better for the parties to work out a schedule on their own. 

The holidays can be stressful for any family, but planning ahead, staying flexible, and keeping the conversation between the co-parents can help ease the tension. If you need assistance creating a parenting plan that reflects your family’s unique needs and priorities, please contact the attorneys in Sugarman Rogers’ domestic relations practice group.