Making arrangements for your children during the holidays can be difficult and can sometimes give rise to conflict.  Ideally, we want to spend as much time as possible with our children during the holidays.  When parents are separated or divorced, that takes some additional planning.  I don’t like the term custody and prefer to use parenting arrangements, but I won’t get hung up on semantics.  The bottom line is that separated or divorced parents must decide how to arrange the holidays for their children.

Parents can determine their holiday schedules for themselves, which I believe is the ideal situation.  If both parents agree on holiday arrangements, the court will not second-guess that decision.  Parents can agree on any schedule that works for them and their children.  That schedule can be for one holiday season, the entire year or for multiple years.  Parents can formalize that holiday schedule in a written agreement, which provides a reference instead of relying on memories.  That written agreement can be entered as a court order if both parts wish.  Another alternative is to have a verbal agreement if both parents are comfortable with that.

Parents can get help from counselors, attorneys or mediators if they want to make their own arrangements and need some assistance to have those difficult conversations.  It can be very helpful to have a third person involved in this situation – not to dictate the terms of the agreement, but to help parents arrive at those terms.

If parents are unable or unwilling to agree on holiday arrangements, they can ask the court to decide.  Judges are paid to make decisions, including parenting decisions, so they will dictate the holiday arrangements if necessary.  Those arrangements may not be what parents or children would like.  Even if a parent believes the judge must agree with what he or she thinks is best, and sometimes both parents believe that, the outcome may be very different.  The question for the judge is not what either parent wants or thinks should happen, but what the judge believes is in the children’s best interests.

One final consideration for parents – how much should their children know about the holiday arrangements?  I think children should know exactly what the schedule will be over the holidays, so they know what to expect.  The amount of detail naturally depends on their age, maturity, etc.  I also think that regardless of how the holiday schedule came to be, children should simply be told that their parents made the decision because they believe it’s best for their children.  Even if the court made the decision and one or both parents don’t agree with it, how is telling children that going to benefit them? 

If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Mechanicsburg, Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss holiday parenting arrangements or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.