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Holiday custody schedules and how to survive them

Some divorced parents dread the holiday season because of the monkey wrench it throws into their child custody arrangements.

Parents who have informal custody and visitation arrangements that don't specify which parent gets the kids on which days can find themselves at odds over holiday visitation. Ideally, couples (or their family law attorneys) will anticipate this potential complication and insist on determining both a normal custody schedule and one that covers the holidays as well.

The winter holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's are usually the ones most hotly contested regarding time spent between divorced parents and their offspring. However, custodial plans for all major holidays during the year can create rifts without a plan in place.

Co-parenting plans should delineate very specific days and hours when the children are with each parent, and when necessary, who will travel to make the exchanges. In today's world of blended families trying to accommodate various former partners, parents can wind up spending the bulk of their holidays in transit to and from visitation pick-up and drop-off points.

A good strategy that often works with couples who are still able to be civil with one another is to list all the holidays your family celebrates each year, and then both rank them in order of importance. Couples from different religious or ethnic backgrounds may discover that they have more wiggle room with the winter holidays. For instance, a non-Christian parent may have fewer problems allowing the ex to have the kids for Christmas Eve and day as long as they can have them on Halloween or for a few extra days over the holiday break.

Even when both parents place high value on the same holidays, parity can be achieved by alternating the holiday custody schedule every year. Making sure this is set forth in the final judgment should be a priority.

Source: Our Family Wizard, "Child Custody Holiday Schedule," accessed Dec. 11, 2015

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