Holidays and Visitation

Determining holidays and visitation are often the top of mom’s lists when it comes to determining how custody and visitation will be handled.  I get it.  I mean, there’s a lot of emotional, cultural, and anthropological significance associated with the holidays we celebrate.

Determining holidays and visitation are often the top of mom’s lists when it comes to determining how custody and visitation will be handled.  I get it.  I mean, there’s a lot of emotional, cultural, and anthropological significance associated with the holidays we celebrate. For a lot of us, our traditions hearken back to what our parents did—and what we’ve always imagined being able to do for our own children when it’s our turn.  The kind of parent you want to be, and the type of family you want to have are both incredibly powerful emotional pulls on our psyche.   For a lot of parents, moving towards a custody and visitation arrangement of any kind is a difficult thing to imagine.  Whereas before you had family time where everyone was invited, you switch instead to a model where mom takes her time and dad takes his—and both parents aren’t welcome at any one particular time.  Knowing that there will be certain holidays (and important ones, no less) where you don’t get to spend time with your children from this point onward is difficult to imagine.

I don’t mean to be harsh here, but this is reality.  From the point that you and your child’s father separate, whether you were ever married or not, and seek to share custody between the two of you on some level, you’ll give up some time with your children that you might have had if you had been able to stay together.  It’s just reality.  There’s no question that’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around, but it’s one that you’re going to have to come to terms with sooner or later.

The good news is, though, if you’re thinking about custody and visitation today, you’ve still got some time before the holiday season comes around again.  Really, this is the perfect time to start thinking about what type of arrangement you’ll want when the holiday season rolls around again; at least now, you’ll have time to give it some real rational thought, and you won’t have the pressure of the impending holiday season that makes you feel extra anxious. After all, that’s when things are the worst.  When you’re down to the wire, and nothing has been determined.  You’re trying to make plans for the holidays, and maybe you’re even planning on traveling, but it’s too difficult to make any plans at all because everything is up in the air.  You’re angry, your child’s father is angry, and no one feels willing to budge an inch.

Now, with the holidays pretty far away, it’s a good time to start talking about what you hope to see in terms of a custody and visitation arrangement—keeping in mind, of course, that you can’t keep all of the good holiday real estate for yourself. Let’s talk about some ways we handle holiday custody and visitation, because I think that knowing what we typically do will help you frame your thoughts moving forward.

1. Split all school holidays.

Even if your child isn’t in school yet, you’ll want to start thinking of the holiday season as all the time that the child will foreseeably have off from school for the holiday season.  Christmas isn’t just a single day (or two, if you count Christmas Eve); it’s about 10 days, most years, where day care options are scarce and children are out of school.A lot of times, when it comes to holidays like Christmas, we divide the break.  We’ll give the shorter half of Christmas break (the first part) to one part, which includes up through Christmas day.  The other parent gets a longer period of time, beginning on December 26th.

Christmas isn’t the only time that kids will have an extended break from school.  There’s also spring break and, in some school systems, an extended break for Thanksgiving.  Make sure to take all these dates into account when you’re planning your custody and visitation.

2. Summer vacation

Keep in mind, too, that you’ll have time to plan vacations with the child in the summer.  Most custody and visitation agreements allow each parent a certain number of weeks in the summer during which other visitation abates, so that each can take a vacation with the child.

Usually, we allow the parents to choose the weeks they want, provided that each lets the other parent know before a certain date (usually, March or April 1).  We always ask that each parent provides contact information, including where they’ll be staying, a number where they can be reached, and exact dates for the trip.  In cases where international travel is an issue, we also deal with that.  Either it’s allowed or it’s not, and specific parameters.

3. What does HE want for holiday visitation?

Sometimes, too, it’s important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Is there something holiday related that is super important to him or his family?  In some families, dinner on Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas day.  In other families, Halloween or the Fourth of July are a big deal.  It really all has to do with each unique family, and what matters most to them.  Think about what matters most to your child’s father.  What time will he ask for?  Can you give him that—in exchange for something that is more important to you?

In my family, for example, we’ve always celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas the day BEFORE the holiday—so that the day of, we could celebrate with extended family (grandparents, aunts, and uncles).  Now, as an adult, I look so forward to the day before each holiday, because it’s the time that I have with my immediate family.  It works out well for my in laws, too, because it means that they get dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas day, because my plans don’t conflict.  If there’s any way you can tradeoff so that you each get what’s most important to you, that’s ideal.  As far as holiday custody and visitation are concerned, that’s pretty much the ace up your sleeve.

4. Is it possible to split the days, or share holidays?

For parents who live nearby, they sometimes opt to share the day.  Don’t want to miss presents on Christmas morning?  Well, there’s no rule that says that you can’t both be there, if you choose to be, and can make it a happy day for your children.  For parents who live far from each other, that may not be a realistic possibility.  Still, if it is possible, and if you’re feeling like you’d rather die than miss something so important, why not talk to your child’s father about it?  You may just find that your child’s father is feeling the same way, and that you’re willing to compromise so that neither of you has to miss out.The great thing about agreements in general is that you’re free to come up with whatever works best for you.  There really aren’t any rules here, so feel free to use these tips, or come up with some items on your own that help facilitate your agreement.For more information about crafting a schedule for holidays and visitation, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.

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