Divorce can be especially tough during the holidays.

Friends start posting their holiday “highlight reels” on social media, sentimental commercials are playing on the television, and it suddenly feels like everyone else is living inside of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Like many other aspects of divorce, the key to a successful holiday season is a willingness to accept change, plan ahead, and manage expectations. The holidays are a great time to create new traditions, but the “annual custody fight” shouldn’t be one of them.

It is highly recommended to incorporate a holiday parenting time schedule into your parenting plan.

Create a Holiday Visitation Schedule

A holiday visitation schedule is a plan that outlines where the children will go for all major holidays, birthdays, and school breaks. It is separate from the main custody arrangement.

Typically, parenting plans will have a “rotating holiday schedule,” which means each holiday alternates annually between parents.

For example: children spend Thanksgiving with Dad during the even years, and with Mom during the odd years.

Other options include: sharing time on a holiday, scheduling alternative dates for the “off-year” parent to celebrate a holiday, spending the holidays together, or splitting up the holidays accompanying a long weekend.

For example: the children spend Thanksgiving Day with Mom, but spend the following long weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) with Dad.

Some holidays are more meaningful to one parent than another. For this reason, a combination of different time-sharing approaches may work best in your schedule.

The more specific the holiday schedule, the better. Generally, plans should include pickup and dropoff times to minimize arguments over transportation and timing.

What Will the Children Enjoy?

The holiday visitation schedule exists to protect the best interests of your children. While dividing holidays in half sounds tempting, it may leave children sitting in traffic on Christmas.

Parents must consider how the plan will work in practice. The holiday schedule should be as equal as possible, but not at the expense of the children’s quality of life. Never put children in the position of having to choose between their parents.

Avoid Conflict, Plan Ahead

When it comes to divorce, uncertainty leads to conflict. The more unknowns, the more opportunities there are for dispute. Creating a holiday parenting time schedule keeps everyone on the same page, and allows both parents and children to emotionally prepare for the holiday season. With the stability of a plan, you can finally start making new traditions and cherished memories.

Communicate regularly with your ex-spouse, and always confirm holiday logistics in advance. In the event of a dispute, keep a copy of the holiday custody agreement handy.

If it’s done right, the only thing a parent will have to worry about is gift shopping.

For a free consultation on parenting plans and holiday schedules, contact the custody experts at Arons & Solomon.