Every parent wants and expects to get regular access to their children in the event of a divorce.  The time the non-custodial parent has with their child was once called “visitation.”  Many courts have gone away with the term “visitation” and now refer to each parent’s time with the child as “parenting time.”   There is usually a schedule set for parenting time called a Parenting Plan.  The Parenting Plan usually addresses both the regular parenting schedule each week as well as how to schedule holidays.

Both parents will want to take the best interests of the children into account when setting up this schedule in order to make them feel safe, secure, and loved even after a divorce. Parents should understand that they can customize both the holiday and regular parenting time schedules to suit their schedules and that of their children. First, it is wise to understand the terms for both the holiday and regular parenting time and how to make it work for all the involved parties.

Holiday vs. Regular Visitation During Divorce

Regular Visitation after Divorce

As part of the divorce, the parents will agree on the custody and parenting time schedule for their children.  If they can’t agree, the Court will decide these issues. Whether if by an agreement of the parents or the judge’s decision, the divorce decree will include a schedule for both regular parenting time and holiday parenting time.  This schedule is usually included as part of a Parenting Plan that is part of the divorce decree.

The regular parenting time in the Parenting Plan is the weekly schedule.  The regular parenting time sets forth who the children will reside with on a given day each week.  If the parents are awarded joint physical custody, common schedules include where the children reside one week at a time with each parent or for each parent to have two days during the week and then alternate a long weekend from Friday through Monday morning.  If one parent is granted sole physical custody, a common schedule for the regular parenting time is for the non-custodial parent to be awarded parenting time every other weekend and one day during the week.

Holiday Parenting Time

The holiday parenting time in the Parenting Plan is the schedule of how holidays change the regular parenting time.  It makes it easier for the child to know what to expect and for the parents to plan when they all know well in advance which parent has the child on any given holiday.  Generally, significant holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and July 4th are addressed in the Parenting Plan. This holiday parenting time supersedes the regular parenting time schedule.  This means the non-custodial will have holiday parenting time even if it doesn’t fall on their regular parenting time days.  It also means that the non-custodial parent may lose their regular parenting time if the holiday of the custodial parent happens to fall on their day.

Thus, the parents will want to take into account not just the holiday itself but also how it affects the regular parenting time.  For example, if the custodial parent’s holiday time falls on a weekend, does the non-custodial parent have to wait about a month to get to have a weekend with their child again?  Many times the Parenting Plan will have make-up time for missed weekends to prevent this.  To avoid conflict in the future, both parents should consider the holidays and their effects on the regular parenting time when coming up with the Parenting Plan.

Ideas on How to Share the Holiday Visitation

Child’s birthday

Although many parents initially want to alternate who gets to have the child on the child’s birthday, many parents ultimately choose not to include the child’s birthday as a holiday.  If the child’s birthday falls on a weekday or school day, an extra back-and-forth to the non-custodial parent and back can be more hassle than fun for the child.  Plus, if the child is involved in sports or other activities, the child may prefer to go to their activities as scheduled and instead celebrate on the weekend when they have more time for a birthday party.

On the other hand, especially if the child’s birthday is in the summer or otherwise tends to fall on a day when school is out, it may be best to alternate the child’s birthday as a “holiday” set forth in the Parenting Plan.

Parent’s birthday

The same is true for parents’ birthdays.  Because of work and school obligations, many parents choose not to include their birthdays as a holiday.  Many parents instead plan to have the birthday celebration during their regular parenting time.

Extended Holidays

During three-day holidays such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day or President’s Day, parents could alternate the holidays or give the Monday holiday to the parent that already had the child during the weekend.  If the parents don’t live in the same city, these long weekends are often seen as opportunities for the non-custodial parent to have extra time with their child.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

It is common for the mother to be awarded Mother’s Day and the father to be awarded Father’s Day every year.  Often this holiday is the whole weekend and not just the Sunday of Mother’s Day/Father’s Day.

Spring Break

Especially when the parents live far apart from each other, Spring Break is often one of the best opportunities for the non-custodial parent to have a larger block of time with their child during the school year.

Schedule the holiday twice

After divorce, many children celebrate major holidays twice.  Even though a parent may be sad that they don’t have the children on the official day of the holiday, many children enjoy getting to have two Christmases or two Thanksgivings each year.  Parents who keep this in mind when creating the holiday parenting time often are able to create a plan that their children really enjoy, even though their parents are no longer together.

Most parents find it works best to alternate who gets to have the children on the holiday.  Other parents split the day.  For example, the children attend a brunch at one parent’s house and dinner at the other’s so they have time with both parents on the holiday.

Have fixed holidays

If some holidays are more important to one parent or one side of the family, you could allow the child to be with that parent on the specific holiday every year.  For example, if Easter is a major holiday to one parent but not the other, that parent may be awarded the Easter holiday every year.  The other parent could instead be awarded an extra weekend somewhere else in the calendar.

Also, don’t be afraid to include “holidays” annual events that are important to the child.  For example, if one parent has the tradition for a family reunion during a certain timeframe each year, this could be included as a “holiday” in the Parenting Plan.  After all, the child shouldn’t have to miss an important family event just because their parents are now divorced.

Special Occasions

Especially for parents who struggle to co-parent, many Parenting Plans now include provisions to set forth ground rules as to how to trade time for special occasions.  This way the children won’t miss out on special events, such as weddings or funerals.

The Bottom Line

Every family is unique.  Developing both a regular and holiday time schedule creates a schedule and an expectation so the children don’t miss out just because their parents are divorced.  Even though it is hard on parents to be away from their children during the holidays, a well-crafted holiday time schedule may lead to the children having even more holiday fun.  The children will get to create lasting holiday memories with each parent.

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