Those couples contemplating an upcoming divorce or separation should pay close attention as they go through their last holiday season together. Parenting plans often will use an alternating year and alternating holiday schedule. This means that those who have the kids on Thanksgiving on even-numbered years will not have them for Christmas, and vice-versa for odd numbered years. The same can be true for the summer stretch with Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day.
It is important to remember, however, that the needs of the child(ren) should be the priority for establishing the schedule. This will also need to be balanced by the unique needs of the family and how and when they celebrate holidays, religious holidays and special events like birthdays.
Big picture issues to consider
There are a number of factors that go into every family’s holiday schedule. Here is a list of questions to start the conversation for drafting a workable parenting plan and holiday schedule.
What holidays are the priorities?
Perhaps one side of the family celebrates Christmas Eve every year and then disperses for Christmas day. Maybe families living out of town travel home every other year for Christmas and the kids will want to see their cousins. Religious days like Hanukkah may be a priority for some families.
Is alternating the years necessary?
Perhaps both extended families are based nearby or in the same hometown, which can make it easier to divide the time up. Couples with younger child(ren) may want to spend holidays together even after the divorce.
Some issues are more specific
Is there a traditional family trip during the Christmas holidays?
Parents should strive to keep family traditions going, whether it is a ski trip to Lake Tahoe or a timeshare in Mexico. The couple should discuss how this will work going forward and how it will be paid for.
How will gift giving work?
It is often best for couples to coordinate gifts. This avoids duplicate gifts and enables both parents to share the credit for larger and more popular items. It also ideally eliminates competitive gift giving or a parent buying a gift that is potentially unpopular with the ex-spouse, such as a toy gun or a phone.
Also, pay attention to the details
Showing up promptly and prepared are some examples of how to keep the stress level down and make it more enjoyable for all involved. Getting as much as possible in writing will make expectations clear, but modifications can be useful as the needs of the family change.