Holiday Parenting Plans

Holidays are a stressful time of the year, especially for divorced or separated couples. The financial burden that families face is not the only obstacle for families with parenting plans or other orders in place.  Dividing holiday time between parents, especially when long-distance relatives and travel schedules are involved, can be challenging even for separated parents with a good co-parenting relationship.

Holiday Dinner

Determining how to split time for the holidays may be overwhelming, but it is crucial to have a specific written plan. Children need to feel secure and be placed in a stable environment. Establishing parenting time for holidays will reduce anxiety for both the parents and children.  Older children, especially, benefit from a clear schedule known well in advance of the holiday, especially if the plan incorporates how the children wish to spend their time. Children should have the opportunity to spend this special time with each parent and their extended families.

In Arizona, planning holiday parenting time is often made more difficult by non-uniform school schedules and seasonal residency.  Sometimes, children in different schools (e.g., a younger child in elementary school and an older child in high school) have different release dates, shorter or longer holiday break periods, and even intersession classes.  This is especially true for families with younger children in local schools, such as Copper Canyon Elementary in Scottsdale, but whose older children attend schools in different cities, like Brophy/Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix.

Contract

Moreover, parents should try to maintain the traditions the children have enjoyed in previous years, especially in the first holidays after a separation or divorce.  Children often struggle to come to terms with their new living arrangements when families split; accordingly, providing them with a familiar and comfortable holiday reinforces the children’s understanding that their parents still love them just as much as they did when they were together.

Logistically, parents should decide whether (and which) holidays can be spent together, should be split in partial days, or should be alternated each year. For instance, many families may divide the time on some holidays, such as dividing morning and evening on Christmas Day, but alternate which parent has parenting time all day on Halloween each year. Whether a family’s decision is to alternate holidays or divide, making this decision should be prioritized and must, per Title 25 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, promote the children’s best interests.

Often, high-conflict divorces and separations reach the boiling point when holiday schedules are discussed.  Although it’s never too late to draft a firm parenting plan, there is tremendous benefit to starting the discussion early to ensure that a good parenting plan is in place before other arrangements are made.  When deciding how to handle the holidays, be specific and put your children first.

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