By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
A huge part of a parenting plan is division of the holidays. In addition to their general significance, certain holidays can have a very personal, sentimental importance to a parent. As such, much thought should be given to how the holidays are addressed at the time of divorce.
A good starting point is looking at the intact family’s traditions. Was Christmas Eve always celebrated with one spouse’s extended family? Is one parent Christian and one Jewish? Was Thanksgiving out of town, and over four days in order to see long distance family? Was the Fourth of July a huge celebration, with taking days off of work and camping? Was Memorial Day really even acknowledged, or just a day off of work and school?
There is no specific way to handle holidays. It is more an ala carte. Each and every holiday can be identified and simply alternated every year. Some holidays can be excluded, and simply fall as they do under the regular parenting schedule. One parent can always get a specific holiday every year, while the other parent gets something else. Non-typical holidays, like Boxing Day, can be included.
Additional key considerations are specific definitions as well as impact on the regular schedule. Dates and times for start and end of the holiday should be included in plan. For example, will Father’s Day be the whole weekend, just the day, or one overnight? For any holiday that falls on a weekend day, duration consideration should look at the impact on the regular parenting plan weekend rotation. By defining a holiday as the entire weekend, the children may go three weekends in a row with the same parent, meaning three weekends in a row away for the other parent. If the full weekend holiday definition is still preferred, additional language should be considered, such as adjusting the weekends before or after the holiday weekend, so as to prevent too many weekends away from one. It can be very illuminating to plot on a calendar the regular parenting plan and the proposed holiday sharing. A snap shot of at least two years gives the most accurate picture. Then the focus should be if it is too much back/forth for the children, takes away a disproportionate share of regular parenting time, or evens out just by letting the holidays fall with the regular parenting schedule.
Holidays are to be a special time. Although it is difficult to be away from children for any period of a holiday, a personalized schedule that is based upon the specifics of your family helps to continue the traditions previously enjoyed. With very detailed definitions, the focus can be enjoying the holiday and celebrating one another.