‘Twas the Night Before Christmas … So Who’s Got the Kids?

Jon Hedgepeth

Custody at Christmastime is an issue as old as the holiday itself.

An unfortunate reality of divorce is that not everyone can have the kids for the holidays. As part of any custody agreement, parents need to establish who is to get the kids, and for how long.

For custody-sharing parents, the December break can be fraught with tension. The days leading up to Christmas are fun and exciting, while the following days are considerably less so. Figuring out what’s “fair,” especially when there is only one actual Christmas Day during the Christmas break, has caused countless couples to revisit their original custody agreement.

When coming up with custody and parenting time guidelines, there will always be a need to accommodate the vagaries of life. What worked last year may not work this year for a variety of reasons. Parents need to work together to decide upon a plan that is best for them and happiest for their kids.

Practical or Scorched Earth?

The most acrimonious divorces often end up with parents actually counting the custody days and taking a scorched earth approach to shared custody. There are practical ways to look at splitting up the long holiday period in a manner that is not only more equitable but more in keeping with the spirit of the season. A good parenting plan is one you never really have to revisit because you’ve understood that for it to succeed you must work together.

The best time (and first time) to address custody is at the time of divorce. Your parenting plan should have all holiday issues addressed. People can interpret custody plans liberally, so you need to tighten them down very specifically.

Your Holiday Custody Options

With that said, there are a few basic starting points to work from when devising your holiday custody plan. Here are some options to consider:

Option 1: All or Nothing

Some families trade off the whole holiday break every year, so one parent has the kids for the entirety of the break. For many parents, this allows opportunities for extended trips or family visits. The downside is that on off-years, you will miss seeing your kids at all over the holidays.

Option 2: Half and Half

Another option is breaking the holiday in half, with one parent getting custody for the first half and the other parent the second, or with one parent getting the kids through Christmas Day and the other through New Year’s Day.

This isn’t always popular, since it means one parent gets the kids for Christmas, traditionally a fun holiday to spend with kids, while the other parent has the kids for New Year’s Eve, traditionally a fun holiday to spend with adults. One solution is to carve out a block from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day, so the same parent gets both the high and the low.

Option 3: The Usual Routine

Some families simply maintain their regular custody routine through the break, preferring to keep a successful schedule instead of disrupting it. This can work well, although it can also lead to one parent having custody on the actual holiday for several years in a row.

Option 4: Creative Solutions

Finding a creative solution means finding a solution that works for you and your family. Maybe one parent stakes a claim on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day, and they build their holiday custody agreement around maintaining this new holiday tradition.

One final note: There are more complaints about visitation before big holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas than at any other time because people may have made informal agreements in the past and then backed out on them. When people give a little extra time to the other party they expect reciprocity, but that’s hard to enforce. Judges aren’t necessarily going to move any faster just because you want to spend this particular Thanksgiving with your kids.

There’s no single “right” approach to handling holiday custody, but it really helps if the parents can agree on a united plan of action. Trying one approach and finding it doesn’t work isn’t a failure, just a sign. Eventually, working together, you will find an approach that both works for your own special situation and also makes all of your following holidays happier.

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Clear, timely communication is as important to us as it is to you.  At Hedgepeth Heredia, we make sure that you have access to us, and we keep you informed of every decision and detail, every step of the way.