The holidays are coming up, and this is the time when families want to spend as much time as they can with each other. This can create tension among divorced couples or couples living separately who have children together. Naturally, both parents want to have the child(ren) for the holidays, and the kids usually want to spend time with each parent.
When one parent has custody of the children, the other parent almost always receives visitation rights. There are rare cases involving issues such as abuse where a court may deny visitation or order limited/supervised visitation. Assuming this is a typical child custody/visitation arrangement in which the non-custodial parent is entitled to liberal visitation, a holiday visitation schedule should be put in place as part of this arrangement.
Holiday visitation is not a “one size fits all” arrangement. Each family has its own traditions, and the visitation schedule should be one that takes these and other specific circumstances into account. The arrangement should be fair to both parents, and hopefully one that everybody can agree on.
Here is an example of what a winter holiday visitation schedule might look like:
- Thanksgiving Week (defined as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through the Sunday after): The child(ren) spend this week with their mother in even-numbered years, and their father in odd-numbered years.
- Christmas Eve through Christmas Morning: This period is spent with the mother in odd-numbered years, and the father in even-numbered years.
- Christmas Morning through the Day After (12/26): This period is spent with the mother in even-numbered years, and the father in odd-numbered years.
- New Year’s Eve through New Year’s Day Morning: This period is spent with the mother in odd-numbered years, and the father in even-numbered years.
- New Year’s Day Morning through the Day After (1/2): This period is spent with the mother in even-numbered years, and the father in odd-numbered years.
This schedule would be similar for the other holidays during the year, such as Easter and the Fourth of July, with the mother and father having the kids during alternating years. A schedule would also be worked out for spring break, summer break, and the parents’ and children’s birthdays. Of course, the visitation schedule during holidays, school breaks, birthdays, and other special occasions must take into consideration various factors; such as the work schedules of each parent, the location of the two parents, how far away they live from each other, and many others.
When Holiday Visitation Conflicts with Regular Visitation Schedules
One common question that often comes up with visitation and the holidays is what happens when the holiday visitation conflicts with the regular visitation schedule? For example, a typical visitation schedule might have the kids spending every other weekend with each parent; e.g., Weekend A is spent with Mom, Weekend B with Dad, Weekend C with Mom, Weekend D with Dad, and so on. Referring back to the winter holiday visitation schedule example, what if this is an odd-numbered year and the father has the kids over Thanksgiving weekend, but Thanksgiving weekend falls on Weekend A, which belongs to the mother?
In this scenario, the holiday visitation schedule takes priority over the existing schedule. This means that the father would have the kids over Weekend A, because this is his year to have the kids over Thanksgiving. The next question is what happens the following weekend? Does the father get the kids again because Weekend B is his regular weekend? With most visitation arrangements, the answer would be “yes”.
This may seem unfair, but if you take away the father’s regular weekend for visitation, he would not be receiving any extra holiday time like he should. Also, this is likely to even out in future years. In other words, there will probably be a weekend in the future that is one of the father’s regular weekends, but according to the holiday visitation schedule, the mother gets the kids that weekend.
Visitation and the holidays can often raise questions and cause disputes, especially if the holiday schedule and the regular visitation schedule have conflicts. When these issues come up, it is important to take a step back and try to work out a reasonable solution with your ex. Remember, the holidays are a time when families are supposed to come together, so try to do what’s best for your kids, even if you have to make some small compromises along the way.