Which Home for the Holidays? : How Divorced Parents Should Handle the Holidays

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Oh, holidays!  A time for joy and togetherness with the family.  A time for making great memories and continuing traditions, like listening to your favorite holiday songs while drinking hot coca before the fire[1]… Yet, in Florida, for divorcing or divorced parents and their children, the holidays may seem very different from the tranquil scene described.  Navigating the complexities of co-parenting, scheduling, and keeping everyone in “good cheer” can make the holidays an extremely stressful time.  Below are some insights and tips on how parents should manage the holidays[2] that, overall, will benefit both parents, and more importantly, will be in the children’s best interests.

Establish an Effective Parenting Plan at the Outset with the “Big Picture” in Mind

Frequently, when parents are first establishing a Parenting Plan, they can be so enmeshed in the emotions of the divorce, that they hyperfocus on the exact amount of time each parent will have, or “should” have, with the children.  This hyperfocus results in parents losing sight of the big picture with regard to future holidays, and by doing this, parents end up negatively affecting themselves and their children.  What are the different options and what should parents consider when designating holidays in a Parenting Plan?

Major Holidays (i.e., Thanksgiving Break, Winter Break, and Spring Break).  The typical methods that major holidays can be split are the following:

Follow the same schedule as the regular timesharing schedule. This option is generally a suggestion when the regular timesharing schedule is an equal (50/50) timesharing schedule.  The parent who normally has the children on that day would have them for the holiday.

At the outset, this option would not be appealing to many parents.  Depending on how the equal timesharing schedule is being exercised, by luck of the draw as to where the holidays fall, there may be a large imbalance of one parent having substantially more holidays than the other[3].  Further, if the ongoing, equal timesharing schedule is a 2/2/5 split, this option may be absolutely chaotic for the children.  Think about one parent having the first two days of the Winter Break; then the other parent having the next two days; then the other parent having the weekend; and so on for the entirety of the Winter Break.  This definitely does not seem like low stress!

Split the holiday equally. This option involves either splitting the actual holiday or splitting the entire break equally and also splitting the actual holiday.  Thus, in the first instance, one parent would have the children from the previous overnight through halfway the day of the holiday.  The other parent would then have the children from that halfway point through an overnight. The parents would then resume the regular timesharing schedule.  The second instance involves counting the number of actual days of the entire holiday, with one parent having the child from the time school is out through the day which is the halfway point. The other parent then has the child from that halfway point through the day school resumes for the child. Within this split of the entire holiday break, the parents would also split the actual holiday. Many parents will choose this option believing that it the most “fair” one.

This option may work for Spring Break, during which there is not an actual Spring Break Day that is celebrated; however, if parents really thought this option through, in reality, this option is usually the worst!  Let’s think this through using the 2023 Thanksgiving Break: As typical  in the past years, the children have been given the entire week of Thanksgiving off as a break.  One parent would have the child from Monday through Thursday afternoon, essentially, Thanksgiving lunch.  The other parent would then have the child from that point on Thursday, have Thanksgiving dinner, through Monday morning when the child returns to school.  The seemingly impossible feat of being able to eat two  Thanksgiving meals hours apart aside, this “fair” option also means that parents would never be able to travel during the holidays with their children.  If parents were thinking of the big picture, they would recognize that, for example, traveling to New York to spend Christmas with their family would not be possible[4].  Further, the children would be easing into the holiday and then, “Time’s up.  Gather your things to celebrate elsewhere.”

 Rotate the entire (or half, with regard to Winter Break) holiday.  This option involves one parent having the entire holiday one year, and the other parent having the entire holiday the next year.  For instance, in odd years, one parent has the child from the time school lets out for Thanksgiving through the time school resumes.  In even years, the other parent would then have the same time.  Winter Break in Florida is typically two weeks.  With this option, in odd years, the parent who did not have Thanksgiving would have the child from the time school lets out through Christmas Day.  The other parent would then have from December 26th through return to school.  The parents then would alternate this schedule the following year.

At first glance, this option would not appeal to many parents. “But I won’t have _______ holiday with the children” or “the other parent is getting more time with the children.”  Again, looking at the big picture, this option can actually be the best option.  First, with the yearly alternating of Thanksgiving/first half or second half of Winter Break, everything evens out in the end.  Second, you can travel with the children during your time and/or also spend time for yourself when you do not have the children.

Co-Parent and Be Flexible

After working hard and getting the parenting plan finalized, family law attorneys often tell their clients that their hope is the parents will shove that parenting plan in a drawer and never have to look at it again.  The parenting plan is there to refer to as the default, but hopefully, the parents will be able to cooperate with each other, co-parent, and do what is best for the children.  This means having open communication and being flexible with each other.  If for instance, one parent really wants to attend their family reunion with the children during the Winter Break, but it is technically the other parent’s time, both parents should be willing to compromise.

With a carefully considered parenting plan, open communication, flexibility, and most importantly, true co-parenting, divorced parents and their children can still have wonderful times during the holidays, creating new traditions and memories.  If you would like to discuss creating an effective parenting plan or any other family law issue, please schedule a consultation today.

[1] Please imagine the sound of  a record needle being pulled violently across a vinyl record and the music that has been playing in your head coming to a screeching halt.

[2] Holidays refers to all the major holidays.

[3] I know that I just indicated that parents should not hyperfocus on the actual amount of “time” each parent has with their children, but I am sure that if one parent always has Christmas or Hanukkah and the other gets Columbus Day, there will be some issues.

[4] All right, this technically could be possible, but it would be exceedingly stressful, expensive, and/or chaotic. Do you really want to be traveling on Christmas Day with children in order to make it to the other parent’s home at the “halfway” mark? Imagine all the possible issues, including delayed and cancelled flights. . .

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