Creating a Holiday Custody Plan

The thought of formulating a custody calendar is a daunting task for many divorced or separated parents.  Several factors must be calculated into the agreement before it can be finalized, including a holiday custody plan.  Not having a holiday custody plan in place is a catalyst for chaos which could ensue at the worst of times.  Parents scrambling in the eleventh hour to decide where the kids will open gifts on Christmas morning or spend their night trick-or-treating can spoil the holiday for everyone.  Before letting stress levels rise to high tide, be prepared and organize your holiday custody plan well ahead of time.  Consider these topics as you create your plan:

Work directly with your co-parent to create your joint custody schedule and holiday custody plan.  Your custody schedule will be unique to your family dynamic and must be sensitive to each of your personal schedules.  Keep in mind that holiday custody often trumps the normal joint custody plan but doesn’t often undo the rotation of your custody schedule.

Decide which holidays are most important to you and to your co-parent individually.  While some may be crucial to both of you, there may be others that your co-parent is willing to let you have each year.  Establish which holidays those are, and make that part of your holiday custody plan.

For those dates that you and your co-parent both wish to spend with the kids, decide if it is best for your family to split holidays or switch off each year.  If you live close enough, it may be possible for each of you to spend some of the holiday with your children.  If you live far from each other or just don’t see a split holiday as a good fit for your family, rotate custody each year and stick to it.  Deviating from the rotation may interrupt the pattern, possibly creating confusion in the years ahead.  Stick to the plan as best you can.


Once decided, get your holiday custody plan in writing.  Spell out how you are splitting or rotating the holidays as well as the specifics within your agreement.  This includes drop off and pick up times, locations and much more.  Also, consider how long each holiday really needs to be according to your plan.  Though a holiday may officially be only one day, occasions like Memorial Day often flood over into the entire weekend.  Determine which holidays this may occur on and decide how many additional days need to be devoted to it.


Already wrote your holiday custody plan down once?  Do it again, but this time, on a calendar.  Schedule out holiday custody on a shared calendar as far into the future as has been determined.  The goal is to leave no room for confusion by the time the holiday arrives, so - again - plan ahead!


If necessary, consult with a family law professional when creating your holiday custody plan.  This may be most helpful if you find yourself in a high-conflict co-parenting situation.  A professional can help to mediate conflicts and effectively compose your plan.

Holiday custody plans can become a source of contention for parents but is a crucial piece of the overall custody agreement.  Decide on your plan, and get it in writing.  Once the stress of the draft is done, you will both have more time spend planning your actual celebrations.  Happy Holidays!