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How To Have a Happy Holiday With Shared Custody

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on

This post was updated on December 15, 2022.

The holidays are generally a time when families come together. But for separated or divorced parents, the holidays can make it feel like everything is falling apart. Child custody issues can arise anytime, but with travel and other family members involved, the holidays can make those issues even more challenging.

So here are six tips for dealing with child custody issues during the holidays:

1. Share the Kids During Holidays

With planning and flexibility, you can create ways to make the holiday schedule easier for parents and children. Doubling up on celebrations and including the whole family can ease the strain of shared custody. There are ways to share the kids during the holidays that put the kids first.

2. Avoid Triggering Common Child Custody Holiday Disputes

Even the best-laid child custody schemes can go awry. And identifying the possible issues before they arise can make them easier to avoid. The three most common child custody disputes during the holidays are:

  • Travel: What if one parent wants to take the kids out of state for winter break or spring break? They should operate within the terms of the custody agreement and check with the other parent first.
  • Sharing time: Although a custody agreement may spell out which parent has the children during the holidays, frequently communicate with the other parent so there is a clear understanding.
  • Gift-giving: Where possible, come to an understanding of giving presents with a budget, so one parent doesn't "spoil" the child or try to show up the other parent. Similarly, keep sensitivities in mind. For example, if the mother of your child is a fierce gun control advocate, maybe talk to her first before you buy your child a rifle.

3. Understand the Custody Agreement and Honor Arrangements

Some holiday custody skirmishes are unavoidable, but that doesn't mean they must become full-blown battles or wars. Being familiar with the existing custody agreement and parenting plan and being flexible about alterations to the agreement can help you avoid holiday child-custody battles.

4. Make a Holiday Visitation Schedule

When it comes down to it, the most challenging aspect of child custody during the holidays is figuring out who will be where and when. The next most complicated part is making that schedule happen. Be realistic with the holiday itinerary and consider input from the kids. Use these four tips for making a holiday visitation schedule.

5. Modify a Child-Custody Plan Out of Court

And if you need to change that custody schedule, don't worry that you must go back to a judge for a court order. There are ways to modify a child custody agreement away from the courtroom. Learn how to modify a child-custody plan out of court. Although if you need to go to court, the judge will decide on any modifications in the best interests of the child.

6. Make New Traditions

While it is stressful for parents and children during holiday time, especially with shared custody, there are ways to make it less so. Focus on the positive parts. Create new traditions around the handoff to make it a happy occasion. Perhaps share a meal as a family or let each family member open one gift. Or, if you are on good terms with your ex, consider sharing the holiday together.

Ask your children's input, especially as they get older, to find new ways to celebrate. Create your own holiday; maybe Christmas Eve's Eve (December 23rd) could be your family's own special day. Or make New Year's Eve and New Year's Day your annual tradition.

Or alternate that on even-numbered years you spend Christmas Day with the kids, and your ex gets them on odd-numbered years. Consider the same schedule for Thanksgiving Day so you and your ex can have the kids over school vacations.

Designate certain holidays that you celebrate with the kids and others that the kids go to the non-custodial parent, for example, the major holidays of Halloween, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Or if you are religious and your ex isn't, perhaps schedule religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter Sunday with you. Or if your spouse served in the military, perhaps the kids could spend Veterans Day and Memorial Day with them. Create your own parenting time schedule that works for both you and your ex.

And finally, consider making non-holiday or regular parenting time special in your own way, especially during Christmas break and summer vacation.

The best gift you can give your children is minimizing stress around co-parenting, especially during this holiday season. Having a parenting plan gives your children peace of mind about where they will be for school breaks and vacation time. However, if you're having trouble making or modifying a child custody plan or need help with child support, seek legal advice from a local family law attorney today.

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