Most parents want to spend time with their children during the holidays.
However, it can be challenging to decide who gets what holiday. In Arizona, the court will accept any schedule both parents choose.
In Arizona, the superior court requires all parents who establish parenting time and legal decision-making to have a parenting plan—including a holiday visitation schedule. Many people refer to the parenting plan as their “child custody agreement.”
For the most part, the court will accept any schedule both parents choose so long as it is in the best interests of the children. Deciding which holidays your child spends with each parent takes some thought and planning, though.
Why Is a Holiday Child Custody Schedule Important?
A holiday schedule, sometimes called a “holiday visitation schedule,” allows parents and children to make plans. It enables each parent to plan for their respective major and religious holidays.
Plus, it gives children security because they know where they’ll be during specific holidays.
A well-planned holiday schedule also eliminates arguments and disagreements come holiday time.
This is why it’s best to establish the holiday visitation schedule in the parenting plan.
Holidays are often an opportunity for kids to see family members they are not frequently around. They need to bond with these family members on both sides of their family. That is why they need to have the chance to spend the holidays with both parents.
Decide What Holidays Your Child Will Celebrate
When you exercise joint legal decision-making, sometimes called joint custody in other jurisdictions, you must make major decisions with the other parent.
This includes deciding which religion your child practices, which would also determine what religious holidays your child celebrates.
Your parenting plan should outline both the religious holidays as well as your non-religious holiday visitation schedule.
Take a look at the following holidays for ideas about what you need to include in your parenting time plan.
The following holidays are some of the most common religious holidays celebrated in the United States.
- Rosh Hashanah
- Christmas Eve
- Christmas Day
- Good Friday
- Easter Sunday
- Eid al-Fitr
- Eid al-Adha
- Yom Kippur
The following holidays are the most commonly celebrated in the United States. Confer with your ex-spouse on where the child will be for each of these major holidays.
- Dr. Martin Luther King Day (MLK Day)
- Father’s Day
- Fourth of July
- Labor Day
- Memorial Day
- Mother’s Day
- New Year’s
- New Year’s Eve
- New Year’s Day
- Presidents’ Day
- Veterans’ Day
Other Special Days to Consider
Consider the following days as well when creating your parenting plan. Though they’re not specifically holidays, you and your ex-spouse will still need to decide on parenting time to avoid arguments in the future.
- Child’s birthday
- Parents’ Birthdays
- School Holidays
- Spring Break
- Summer Vacation
Ways To Arrange Child Custody for Holidays
There are many ways to decide how you and your ex-spouse create the holiday child custody agreement.
You might want to share major holidays and celebrate smaller holidays with your child, during your regular visitation time.
Or you may want to alternate holidays each year.
Regardless of what you choose, be very clear in how you plan to split holiday time in your parenting plan, so no one is surprised.
When creating your parenting plan, take into consideration that there are different options when it comes to sharing holidays with your children.
Here are some of the ways you can create your holiday schedule.
For each plan, we go into further detail below:
- Sharing holiday time
- Alternating even-numbered or odd-numbered years
- Splitting holidays
- Dividing holidays based on regular visitation
- Deciding on special holidays each parent will spend with the child
- Arranging summer vacation
Sharing School Vacations and Spring Break
During the school year, many parents decide to share school vacations.
With this arrangement, one parent picks up the child at the beginning of the school break. The child spends the first half of the school break with this parent.
Then, the child spends the second half of the break with the other parent.
Once school resumes, the parents then return back to the normal parenting time schedule.. This plan works better with longer school breaks such as the winter break which is commonly two weeks.
It also provides for an easy allocation of the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, parents typically alternate who celebrates the first week of the break each year.
If you decide to plan parenting time based on the school district holidays, be mindful that they change each year. So, both parents need to pay attention to the child’s school calendar.
Also, in this sort of plan, use phrases like “parenting time shall begin release from last day of school before break” as opposed to specific dates as the dates will change each year.
Alternating Child Custody for Holidays
It is not uncommon for parents to alternate holidays on even or odd years. Alternating the holidays allows you more freedom on each holiday and more time with your child.
It is also nice for children because it takes away the pressure of having to rush to eat or open presents before heading to the location where the other parent is going to pick up the child.
Adopting this schedule means you alternate each holiday, each year. So, you have to decide which holidays the child spends with which parent.
For example, if the child spends Memorial Day with Parent A and July 4th with Parent B, then the next year, the child will spend Memorial Day with Parent B and July 4th with Parent A.
Or, if your family typically celebrates a specific holiday early, as some do for Thanksgiving, you can arrange to spend the week before the holiday with your child.
You can also agree to have the child spend specific holidays with one parent each year and alternate others.
There are many ways to alternate holidays but do try to keep it as simple as you can. The more complex the plan, the more argument and potential litigation you will have in the future.
Sharing and alternating holidays tend to be well-received by parents and children alike. They reduce stress, and they give the child more holiday time with each parent. However, children and parents often want to see each other on the day of the actual holiday. So, some parents decide to split the holidays.
When you split holidays, the child’s holiday time is split between both parents. In other words, each parent gets the child for a specific number of hours or until a set time. In most cases, one parent takes the child for the first half of the day while the other parent gets the second half.
Whether or not this holiday visitation is right for your family depends on a lot of factors. Consider how close you and the other parent live, and how contentious the child exchanges are. You also need to consider where your holiday destination is and how long you plan to be there.
There is only so much time in the day; think wisely about how you plan to spend it.
You also must consider who this plan benefits. Ask yourself if it’s in the best interest of the child to split the holiday in half. If it’s not, consider an alternative.
Dividing Holidays Based on Regular Visitation
Many parents agree to a schedule for major holidays, but divide minor holidays based on their regular parenting time plan.
For example, if Dr. Martin Luther King Day falls on a week with Parent A, the child celebrates with them. Likewise, if the child alternates weekends and a holiday falls on the weekend, the child stays with the parent who has possession of the child that weekend.
Some holidays are special to the mother or the father like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. These holidays are typically spent with the correlating parent.
If the parents agree to raise their child with more than one religion, each parent might want to spend their specific religion’s holidays with the child.
Likewise, if one parent is a veteran or serves in the military, it might be important for that parent to spend military holidays with their child.
You need to determine how you will divide parenting time during the summer, as well. If both parents have equal parenting time, you might want to stick with the same schedule, especially if you have young children.
When parents live in different areas, it’s a different story. The child generally spends a longer period of their summer vacation with the non-residential parent, since they do not see them as much while they are in school.
Extended Parenting Time For Summer
Many parents also want to go on a trip with their children, which can require an extended parenting time.
It is important to outline what extended parenting time each parent may have for vacations during the summer break.
There can be many moving pieces to a summer vacation schedule such as how much time can be added to a parent’s normal parenting time? You do not want to end up not seeing your child for an unreasonable amount of time because someone manipulated the summer vacation schedule.
Also, who’s vacation plans take priority in what year? When must the parents provide notice of vacation plans?
If a parent plans to travel with the child, it’s important to notify the other parent and they may need permission depending on the specific parenting plan and where they intend to travel.
The traveling parent should be reachable throughout the entire vacation time. This means providing the other parent with their traveling telephone number as well as location.
The Best Way to Handle Parenting Time
Parents should work together to come up with a parenting schedule for holidays and other special days. When doing so, it’s necessary to think of what’s in the best interest of their children.
If the parents are on speaking terms and can work together to develop a plan that works for both, it makes things a lot easier. The goal is for parents to schedule parenting time when it is best for them and the child.
However, certain things come up—like work schedules and extracurricular activities— that make sticking to a schedule difficult at times.
In these cases, parents need to communicate with each other and find positive workarounds.
However, this is not always possible. When parents cannot get along, it is best to stick to the parenting time outlined in their court order.
Deviating from the plan can cause confusion and difficulties, especially when parents cannot work together.
Regardless of whether the parents are speaking or not, it is a good idea to get everything in writing.
And, if the court has yet to rule on your child custody case, be sure that you spend time on your holiday visitation schedule.
Changing Holiday Child Custody Agreements
Things change, so it is likely at some point that you will want to amend the holiday visitation schedule.
If you want to make changes to your parenting plan, you should notify the other parent in writing. They must agree with you about the changes and sign confirming they agree.
After you receive their signature, you must file it appropriately with the court.
If you are modifying your holiday schedule or parenting plan in general, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure it is done properly to avoid future issues with contempt and enforcement.
What to Do if You Have Trouble with Your Holiday Visitation
Figuring out a holiday visitation schedule can be emotional. The best thing to do is to put yourself in your child’s shoes and decide what is best for them. Also, keep in mind that it is most beneficial for your child’s well-being if they can spend time with both parents.
Though parents should work together on holiday parenting time, there are situations when parents cannot agree.
If you and your ex-spouse are having trouble agreeing on your holiday visitation schedule, you should consult with your family law attorney. Do not wait until the week before a holiday to try and get help.
If you need help working out a holiday schedule, the sooner you address it, the better. Additionally, family law attorneys work on parenting plans and holiday schedules often.
So, they see where issues arise and how to avoid those issues. It is a good idea to sit down with a family law attorney and discuss your parenting plan.