Who Gets the Kids?: Negotiating a Joint Custody Holiday Schedule

Who Gets the Kids?: Negotiating a Joint Custody Holiday Schedule

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It’s Not an Easy Situation

Holidays are stressful enough on their own without the added prospect of negotiating them with your ex. However, when children are involved, compromises have to be made.

Lay out a custody plan comparable to the level of conflict you share with your ex. The sanity of all involved should remain a priority while creating a positive environment for the kids.

Now is the time to draw on your well of forgiveness and patience. Remain civil at all costs because if you don’t, a family court will do it for you.

Stay Flexible

First and foremost, it’s important to stay flexible when negotiating the holidays with your ex. Anytime another person is involved in coordination or the decision making process, concessions will have to be made.

While you might have a specific game plan in mind, it may not fit with what your ex has in mind and vice versa.

Even if you’re making plans for the winter holidays in October, your ex may not know what their schedule looks like until a week or two before Thanksgiving. It can also be frustrating when one parent has primary custody and doesn’t communicate with the other about the child’s school or extracurricular schedule.

Talk to each other, either directly or through a mediator, and figure out what works for all of you.

Put the Kids First

Children experience holiday stress just like adults do, especially when they come from a split home. Even if your perfect holiday doesn’t involve seeing your ex, your child’s does.

When deciding upon your plans for the holidays, put the kids first.

Think about their wants and needs when it comes to you and your ex. If the divorce is still relatively fresh, your kids may still secretly hope you’re going to get back together.

In that case, it may not be prudent to try and spend the holidays as one family, even if you and your ex are on good terms. They might get the wrong idea only to have their dreams dashed during the happiest time of the year.

It’s also important to consider their personalities and coping mechanisms in regards to the divorce thus far. Do they already get stressed out when they have to see both you and your ex in the same day, but at different locations?

Sharing a holiday may not be the best idea then. You may need to celebrate on a different day or alternate holidays instead.

Take Turns

Although it may not seem like the ideal situation, the most common way to negotiate split holidays is by taking turns having your kids over. If you already have joint custody with your ex, it shouldn’t be much of a hassle figuring out holiday logistics.

However, if one of you lives on the other side of the state, in another state completely, or even another country, holiday visiting might seem like a nightmare.

Think about your own priorities when it comes to the holidays. Are there specific traditions and rituals your children are already used to doing during the holiday season?

Maybe your side of the family celebrates on Christmas Eve, while your ex’s opens presents on Christmas Day. In that ideal scenario, your kids can spend one day with you and the other with your ex and their family.

There’s also the option of splitting the holiday in half, which tends to work well when both parents live close by. Undoubtedly, the details of this arrangement should be ironed out in your custody agreement, but they can always be modified as your children get older.

Keep It Consistent

Whatever you decide when negotiating the holidays with your ex, keep it consistent. Kids need stability in their lives to maintain a sense of security.

Holidays disrupt routine and as a result expectations. Altering their routine even further by doing something different every year leads to disappointment and conflict more often that not.

If your kids had fun playing with their cousins on your ex’s side last year, they may feel upset that they can’t see them again this year because it’s “your year.” While it’s not advisable to ask your kids outright where they’d like to spend the holidays, if your current arrangement isn’t working, consider adjusting it to accommodate your children’s feeling.

Consistency will also ease your own mind so there’s one less thing you have to worry about during the holidays.


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