I’m sure the first thing you think after putting those Halloween decorations away is, “what are the family’s plans for the holidays”? This becomes a bit more complicated when you’re a blended family or are in the process of divorce or new custody issue. It is estimated that 1 in 3 people are a part of a blended family and there is a 50% likelihood that you will be at some point in your lifetime. A blended family is simply a family consisting of a couple and their children from this and all previous relationships.
When you’re going through divorce or have a blended family, it’s always best to have a year round court-approved custody and visitation order. Part of that order will include how you wish to share custodial time during the holidays. You can either continue with a normal custody schedule (week-on, week-off; every other weekend with the other parent; two days with one parent, two days with the other parent, then alternate weekends, etc.) during the holidays and if Christmas happens to fall on your day, you “win” so to speak. This is more common when you’re dealing with lesser celebrated holidays, like the ones the kids get out of school for, but you don’t get a paid vacation day.
What’s typical for the “big” holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and July 4th, is a separate Holiday Schedule. This schedule replaces your normal custody schedule for the period of time on or around the “big” holidays. In California, we use a form FL-341(c) for this purpose, which you can access here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl341c.pdf. On the form you can determine which parent the child spends which holidays with.
Holidays can be shared on an every other year basis, such as: one parent has the child on Thanksgiving and New Years Eve in even years and Christmas and July 4th in odd years, and the other has the opposite. Or you can determine that certain holidays are split the same way every year. For example, the children are always with Dad on Christmas Eve from 4pm to 9am the next morning, because his family has a big party at Grandma’s every year and then they go to Mom’s house to get their presents from Santa.
The more detailed you get with the schedule, the less likely you will run into problems down the road. While it may be frustrating for you when you are sharing the children with the other parent during holidays that you used to all spend together as a family, the key is to keep in mind that both of you and your extended families still love your children and want to spend time with them, and that your children feel the same way. You have to respect the other parent and their time if you want that parent to respect you and your time. So talk about each holiday individually first. Be up front about which holidays are the most important to you, what extended family events typically take place, the timing of those events and how you’d like to make these options work.
If it is impossible to make shared holidays work, then you should use the “alternating year” option. That option also works best if there is a significant distance between your respective extended families where you plan on celebrating. You can also decide if the visitation will be for just the day of the actual holiday (like Thanksgiving) or the entire time the children are out of school (Wednesday to Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend). This will allow you to make travel plans months ahead of time, because your schedule with the children for those days is already set.
While creating and sticking to a holiday schedule won’t cure all of the “family drama” synonymous with the holidays, perhaps it will alleviate some of the foreseeable problems. Every family situation is different, you have to do what works best for your children. If you cannot come to an agreement on your own, contact a neutral party to assist in mediating an agreement or seek legal advice. Communication with the other parent and respect for the other parent’s time are key to keep the stress level down during this time of year and help the children enjoy the holidays, with both parents and their extended families.