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Child Custody and the Holidays

Sharing children over the holidays, or dividing the holidays for the purposes of child custody, are both common approaches for couples after a divorce.  The time to determine who gets the children when, however, is during the divorce proceedings, not the evening before Nana’s 95th birthday.

Common Holidays to Consider

As a preliminary matter, let’s start with the most common holidays.  For this purpose, we look to the government calendar for guidance.  In Maryland, the federal and state holidays observed include New Year’s Day; Martin Luther King Day; Presidents’ Day; Maryland Day (March 25th or nearest weekday); Memorial Day; Independence Day; Labor Day; Columbus Day; Election Day; Veterans Day; Thanksgiving; Day after Thanksgiving; and Christmas Day.  DC, on the other hand, does not observe Maryland Day, Election Day, or the Day after Thanksgiving.  However, DC does observe Inauguration Day every four years.  Additionally, DC observes DC Emancipation Day as a holiday.

Perhaps you are wondering why anyone would argue about who would get child custody on Maryland Day.  Fair question.  Consider whomever has custody on a given day is responsible for the care and feeding of the children on that day.  This includes daycare on days when your children are not in school.  There is no right way to divide holidays such as Maryland Day, or Columbus Day.  Each holiday should be considered and divided in the divorce decree.  It is a good idea to consider each person’s unique circumstances when allocating these types of holidays.  For example, if one person works for a private company, and the other works for the government, the availability of the parents for day care purposes might be considered when divvying up those holidays.  Another couple may both find themselves in similar circumstances regarding holidays.  They may find another arrangement works better for them.

Holidays Specific to Your Family

There are any number of holidays your family might find important, beyond those the Government observes.  These can include religious holidays, such as Yom Kippur, or Good Friday, or Edi al-Fitr.  Other “holidays” could include each parent’s birthday, each child’s birthday, and, for children who were adopted, their “Gotcha Day!”  When your lawyers are writing your divorce decree, any holidays that are important to you should be discussed, so that they may be properly addressed in your divorce decree.  Some families celebrate the birthdays of extended family members, including aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.  Other families do not find these dates to be as significant, or don’t have extended family.  In those cases, of course, such dates won’t take priority.

Other dates to consider might include Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  If one side of the family holds a family reunion during the third weekend in June every year, this can, and should be considered when allocating parenting time between the parties.  Parents should also consult their children’s school calendar.  Spring break, and teacher preparation days, should also be considered when evaluating parenting time and child custody during the year, until the children are old enough to stay home alone.

Common Ways to Divide Holiday Time

            Every Other Year

For families who observe the same holidays, some families choose to divide the holidays by year.  For example, one parent may have the children on Thanksgiving, while the other parent has the children on Christmas during even years.  In odd years, the parents switch.

            Permanent Assignment

Another approach is to identify the holidays important to each party, assign those that are “party specific,” such as Nana’s birthday, and permanently assign the other holidays.  In this scenario, one parent always has Christmas Day.  The other party may, depending on the agreement, always have the children on Easter.

            Split Days

Other families choose to divide each holiday in half.  In this arrangement, the child spends the morning, (and, depending on the circumstances, the night before) with one parent, and then, at a time agreed upon by the parties, the child is transferred to the custody of the other parent.  This works well for families who live in the same general location.  For families who live some distance from each other, where travel consumes much of the day, may find another arrangement more suitable.

            Double Holidays

Still other families choose to schedule the holiday twice, so that both parents celebrate one or more holidays throughout the year, with their child.  The easiest example occurs over the Christmas holiday, as one parent celebrates with the child on Christmas Eve, while the other parent celebrates with the child on Christmas Day.  However, there is nothing to prevent celebrating Thanksgiving two Thursdays in a row, once for each parent and their children.

            The Hybrid Approach

Finally, some families find a hybrid approach works best for them.  For example, they may agree to a fixed assignment for Memorial Day and Labor Day, with one parent always having the Memorial Day holiday, while the other always has the Labor Day holiday.  The same family may find that all the children should be together for each child’s birthday.  Perhaps the children spend the night before, and the morning of the birthday with one parent, and the evening and night with the other.  Alternatively, the custodial parent may celebrate the child’s birthday on the actual day of birth, while the other parent plans a celebration on their next scheduled parenting day.

Holiday Parameters

Your experienced family law attorney won’t just identify and discuss relevant holidays for your family.  Your attorney will also work with you, and the attorney representing the other side, to define the parameters of the visitation.  If you awarded parenting time on your birthday, does that start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 3:0 p.m.?  Does it start at 6:00 p.m. the night before, and extend until the next school day?  As with most issues involving parenting time, there is no, single, cookie cutter approach that works for every family.  The question is, “What works best for your family?”

If You are Facing Parenting Time Decisions

Decisions about parenting time can feel overwhelming.  Contact the experienced Rockville and Fredrick divorce lawyers at Fait & DiLima.  We have over 50 years of combined experience in family law cases.  We can help you identify the issues important to you and your family.  Call us today to schedule a consultation.

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