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Dealing with the Changing Routines of Holidays & Vacation Breaks in Divorce

child custody schedule visitationHolidays — especially in the first year of a divorce — can be a difficult time for parents and children alike. For one thing, holidays often bring to mind memories of happier days when everyone celebrated together. Holidays may intensify children’s feelings of longing to return to that time before their parents were divorced.

Although there are bound to be many changes in the children’s holiday customs, it is possible to create new traditions that will also become an important part of their lives. If you strive to present them in a positive light, it can be easier for the children to accept the new traditions and to adjust to the changes in their lives.

Using your child custody agreement to help outline visitation and parenting time schedules to spell out the details for handling holidays and special events can be a positive means for all involved. Having such things discussed and decided ahead of that holiday can make it easier for all to stick to that agreement. This can not only help eliminate a future source of conflict but also helps the children get established into their new routines.

Divorced couples may handle this parenting time through sharing or division of holidays in various ways. The following provides a summary of some common ways that might help divorcing couples with children when considering the holidays:
1. Alternating Holidays
Implementing an alternating holidays clause in your divorce agreement can work quite well for all parties. Let’s suppose a scenario in which the family celebrates Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. One parent might have the children on Easter in “even” years and Christmas in “odd” years. The other parent then would have the children on Christmas in “even” years and on Easter in “odd” years. Thanksgiving could be alternated in a similar way; in this scenario one parent would have the children for 2 holidays in “even” years and the other would having them for 2 holidays in “odd” years. How the couple works it out depends in part upon which holidays are normally celebrated.

2. Differing Religions
When ex-spouses follow different religions things can be awkward for any number of reasons relating to holidays and religious events in marriage or in divorce. It may require couples to take a closer look upon divorce. Many times, if different holidays are celebrated due to religious beliefs, we have seen parents agree that the child spend time with the parent whose holiday is being celebrated.

3. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
As you would expect, children usually spend Mother’s Day with their mother and Father’s Day with their father. With the changing times of parental duties including same-sex marriage, these holidays may require a closer look and outline in the divorce agreement. All parties who need to feel a part should be included so that the children understand that they are special to both parties no matter what the day is called.


Longer school breaks can be more confusing. No matter what arrangement you choose, you should work it out so that there is not a conflict with the holiday visitation schedule. The following describes some common ways of dealing with these situations:
1. Alternating School Breaks
Just like with the holidays, divorced couples might decide to alternate school breaks. For example, one parent might decide to have the children over Spring break and the other over Winter break. This type of scheduling can allow for a good source of ample time during that break for all.

2. Dividing Breaks Into Parts
If fully alternating a school break isn’t preferred, dividing the break time is another method. In this scenario, the children could be set up to stay with one parent for the first half of their vacation period and with the other parent for the second half. The divorce agreement might state that each parent always keeps that half or they could alternate every year.

3. Summer Vacations
Summer vacation tends to be the longest of break times for children. How this time is divided could be better managed if spelled out in your divorce agreement. Each parent might be assigned specific weeks during the children’s summer break for their vacation weeks. But, this should be discussed and considered carefully in order to best meet the parents’ schedules or needs and, especially, the children’s best interests.

The important part is to think about parenting time and child visitation schedules before your divorce or child custody agreement is final and then to stick to those decisions as much as possible. Try to make your holiday, vacation and other plans around your agreement to avoid conflict and to instill a feeling of stability in your children.

That being said, however, as hard as you try to stick to your agreement, there will be times when the scheduling of important events in your child’s life is beyond your or your ex’s control. What if your ex’s grandmother is celebrating her 100th birthday on the Saturday night of your weekend? Or suppose your sister is getting married during your ex’s usual vacation time. For the children’s sake, you should be flexible. Exchange weekends or vacation times if necessary. Most importantly, always keep your children’s interests and well-being your top priority.

How your child handles these necessary changes in holiday and vacation routines depends greatly on how you handle them. Try to focus on the positive aspects of the holidays. Let the children know that you want them to be happy about the new traditions and memories they are creating.

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