Child Visitation Rights During the Holidays

Child custody and visitation rights are frequently one of the messiest and most stressful parts of divorce proceedings. With each parent fighting for what they feel is best, it is easy for disputes regarding child visitation during the holidays to cause bad blood. It is in your best interest to fully understand your visitation rights and to work with your ex-spouse to develop a written holiday schedule or visitation plan that both parties agree with.

If you are dealing with child custody issues or have questions regarding your visitation rights, contact our experienced team of family law attorneys at Brighter Day℠ Law. We will bring our expertise on Colorado family law to bear to help you reach the best possible outcome for your situation.

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Vacation and Holiday Visitation Schedule

Due to the unique nature of each custody case, there is no definitive rule for how holidays will be divided. However, in the majority of cases, the court will rule in favor of as even a division of time as possible. This can take different shapes depending on different family situations, but we have included two basic guides that can give you an idea of how things may be broken up for parents who remain local and for parents who are distant (again, there is no hard rule here, but usually more than around 3 hours away).

Local Parents

  • Spring break – parents alternate custody each year
  • Mother’s Day or Father’s Day – the child will spend the holiday with the applicable parent
  • Summer – parents each get 1 to 2 weeks of consecutive time with the child
  • Fall break – parents alternate custody each year
  • Thanksgiving – parents alternate custody each year
  • Christmas – parents alternate custody each year
  • Child Birthdays – parents alternate custody each year
  • Parent Birthdays – the child celebrates the birthday with the applicable parent (schedule permitting)
  • Minor holidays (e.g. Halloween, Labor Day, etc) – parents alternate custody each year

Related: What to do if Visitation is Being Denied

Distant Parents

Parents that live more than about 3 hours away will usually have a harder time navigating an equal-time schedule such as the one listed above. In these cases, since the child will primarily live with one parent, the non-custodial parent may have a holiday schedule similar to the following:

  • Spring break – every year or alternate custody as agreed
  • Summer – about 5 to 10 weeks of custody time
  • Thanksgiving – parents alternate custody each year
  • Winter break – parents alternate custody each year, or split the break in half and each parent gets custody for half
  • Minor holidays – the non-custodial parent may be permitted extra custody time in the city the child resides in, at the parent’s expense

These are only examples of schedules that may work for many custody situations. With each case having individual requirements, you may need to work up changes that better fit your own schedules. The age of the child, travel expenses, work schedules, and more can all play roles in dictating how your holiday arrangements are managed. It will be important that you work with your ex-spouse to create a written schedule that you both agree to in order to avoid holiday visitation issues.

Why Bother with a Holiday Visitation Schedule?

A holiday visitation schedule is a useful tool that allows parents and children both to make plans in advance and offers some extra stability. This stability can be massively beneficial to the child or children, as they will know where they will spend a specific holiday or school vacation well in advance. A well-planned holiday schedule can also help to reduce or eliminate arguments surrounding custody that will likely pop up around the holiday season. Developing a set schedule can be a highly practical method for avoiding unnecessary holiday stress brought on by custody issues.

Additionally, the holiday season is a great opportunity for children to see extended family they may not often get to spend time with. It can be important for their growth to have an opportunity to bond with family from both parents. By planning ahead and building a visitation schedule, you can make sure they have the chance to spend time around both families and avoid the holiday visitation headaches you will likely have to deal with if someone feels they are being shortchanged.

Ideas to Arrange Holiday Custody

You and your ex-spouse can create the holiday custody agreement in any number of ways. Regardless of how you choose to split custody time, you should be certain that the schedule is very clear to avoid any surprises down the road. Take some time to consider different options to decide what will work best for your situation, we have a few ideas that may help you create your holiday schedule.

Splitting Holidays

If you and your ex live near enough to make this possible, splitting the holiday so the children spend half with one parent, and half with the other, can be a great way to give everyone the chance to celebrate and maintain important traditions. This idea can be tiring for younger kids and is less practical the further apart you are, so take those considerations into account before deciding on this.

Alternate Holidays

This option is common as a way to give both parents opportunities to spend major holidays with the kids every year. As an example: One parent has custody on Thanksgiving and the other on Christmas. The next year, they switch so that the first parent now has custody on Christmas and the second on Thanksgiving.

This can be a very fair way of sharing holiday time between both parents and can allow you the opportunity to relax and enjoy the day without having to meet to swap custody.

Celebrate on a Different Day

If you want to get the full holiday experience every year, but can’t manage to split the actual holiday, consider celebrating on an entirely different day. There’s no rule that says you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving a couple of weeks early.

This can give you the opportunity to fully celebrate holidays every year while maintaining your existing traditions or even building new ones.

Celebrate the Holidays Together

This option obviously will not work for everyone. If you are someone who went through an amicable divorce and are still on good terms with your ex-spouse, however, this can be a great choice for celebrating the holiday the way your kids remember.

If you decide to give this a try, you should talk with everyone involved (your kids, your ex, any new partners, etc.) to make sure everyone is on board and it won’t be a tense and uncomfortable experience.

Alternate or Split School Breaks

School vacations can be a major source of tension when it comes to working out custody schedules. You can propose splitting them, so that you each get time on every break, or alternating the entire vacation time yearly. Similar to alternating holidays, this would mean that one parent would spend all winter break with the kids one year, and all summer break the next, while the other parent does the opposite.

Stick with Your Regular Visitation Time

If some of the more minor holidays don’t mean that much to you, you may want to just keep to your normal parenting schedule. Keep in mind that some of these, like Labor Day, may give you an opportunity for a three-day holiday weekend with the kids, so you may want to check the calendar before writing them off entirely.

Set Fixed Holidays

While a holiday may be unimportant to you, it may hold meaning for your ex-spouse or vice versa. In cases like this, it can make sense to assign custody to that particular parent for these special holidays every year. This could be Mother’s/Father’s Day, a birthday, or a particular religious holiday, and having that sense of continuity from year to year can be great for stability. 

Learn More: Is Visitation Always Given to the Non-Custodial Parent?

Celebrate Digitally

Jobs or previous commitments have a habit of getting in the way. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out entirely. If there is something preventing you from being physically present for the holiday, set something up online. With a little bit of work, you can set something up that will still be enjoyable for you and let you see your kids.

When you discuss your options for holiday parenting time with your ex-spouse, it is critical that you both put it in writing. By doing so you reduce the chances that you will have holiday issues over custody disagreements and you offer everyone involved stability to plan for their vacations and holidays.

Considerations for Dividing Holidays and Vacations

Determining custody for holidays and vacations can be a major point of contention during and after divorce proceedings. By creating a written plan for splitting time as well as costs associated, you will help your holiday or vacation time proceed in a smoother, less stressful manner.

You should take time to consider a number of factors that will impact holiday visitation periods as you develop this schedule. 

Family Traditions

Traditions can be incredibly important for some families, particularly around the major or religious holidays. Talk to your children, if they are old enough, and find out which traditions they think are most important. You can work to develop your holiday child custody agreement in a way that preserves those, while maybe changing some others that might not mean as much to them if necessary.

Taking the extra time to do this can have enormous benefits, as traditions can help offer stability to your children as they are going through a major life change. It can also give you an opportunity to build new traditions with them. 

Living Plans

If you don’t split custody evenly through the year you will need to plan ahead for the logistics of longer breaks, such as summer vacation, if you choose to take that route. The non-custodial parent will need to offer living space for the kids while they stay with them.

Child Visitation During the Holidays

Travel Costs

This is particularly important for parents who live distantly from one another or are traveling for a holiday destination. Extra costs can come up when traveling with kids, and you will need to be prepared for this. 

It is also highly important that you write in your divorce agreement who will pay for travel expenses under different conditions.

Children Need Time with Both Parents

The court will see it as a priority that the children spend time with both parents as evenly as possible. This will mean a fairly equal distribution of vacation time and major holidays. As circumstances shift (e.g. school/work changes, new marriages, etc.) you should be flexible and civil while creating a holiday schedule. 

Work with a Qualified Family Law Attorney

At Brighter Day℠ Law we have the experience and dedication to handle all aspects of family law. If you are dealing with child custody or visitation issues call us today at.(719) 225-4443 or schedule an appointment online for a free case consultation. Our knowledgeable child custody lawyers will help guide you through the process and get the best possible result for you.