Most Separation Agreements or Court Orders will make special provisions for access over the holidays. Whether that means just Christmas Eve until Boxing Day, or the whole Christmas school break will depend on the particular family and the ages of the children. Families of different faiths will often make special provisions for access over Eid al-Fitr, or the Jewish Holidays. For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on Christmas, but the same considerations may be applied to many other celebrations.
There are not many specific rules around the holidays. Some couples have all of their extended family in town or nearby, so it’s relatively easy to have the kids go from Mom’s house to Dad’s by noon on Christmas Day. Some families have historically alternated between one set of grandparents on the west coast, and one on the east coast, and travel for the whole school break. They may wish to continue the children’s attendance at those faraway family gatherings, or to chart a new course after separation.
What I normally ask clients is which specific family celebrations are particularly important to each family: a Christmas Eve sleigh ride? Christmas morning pancakes? The turkey dinner? When the two families prioritize separate celebrations or events some parents may choose to keep Christmas consistent each year. For example, Christmas Eve always with Dad, and Christmas Day always with Mom. When the two families prioritize the same parts of the holiday, such as waking up Christmas morning, then it’s common to alternate years so that the kids wake up at Mom’s house in even-numbered years and at Dad’s house in odd-numbered years.
Some families just want to make special provisions for the 24th, 25th, and 26th of December. Some families want special access for New Year’s Eve. Some want to simply split the whole school break right down the middle, alternating which parent gets the first half each year. If the matter is high conflict, an Agreement or Order can be very specific as to the precise time of access exchanges,and assigning responsibility for driving the children between homes.
If you have a matter in litigation, or in mediation any time in the fall, it makes sense to discuss Christmas holiday plans at that time. Christmas can be a challenging time for separated families, particularly in the first year that the couple has separated. It is prudent to try to come to an agreement well in advance of the season. Your lawyer, mediator or, if necessary, the court will want to allow time to discuss this festive season, and ideally assist parents in agreeing on a holiday schedule on a consent basis.