Making Your Holiday Visitation Schedule

Dad hugging his two children by the door of house

Halloween marks the beginning of the extended holiday season. What you do now in making your holiday visitation schedule will shape your children’s holiday experience today, and memories for years to come. Here’s how to make a child’s holiday visitation schedule that gives them time with both parents so that you can build memories together.

Maryland’s Standard Holiday Visitation Schedules

There is no one standard holiday visitation schedule built into Maryland family law. The Court will assign a holiday schedule if requested to do so, but oftentimes it will not reflect all of the nuances of your individual family celebrations. The Courts give parents the opportunity to fashion their own holiday schedules outside of the court process, and frequently parents are able to craft a more customized schedule that will allow your children to honor long-standing traditions and also develop some new traditions. The most durable holiday visitation schedules are often a by-product of the regular visitation schedule included in your child custody and visitation agreement. Most frequently, regular visitation schedules fall into one of the following categories:

  • Flexible Visitation: Parents work together to create a mutually agreeable schedule
  • Fixed Visitation: Parents follow the set routine included in their order
  • Supervised Visitation: One parent only sees the children in the presence of a third party (this is not common)
  • Zero Visitation: the non-custodial parent is not allowed to see the children (this is very rare)

Most families’ visitation schedules will be either flexible or fixed. If you do have supervised visitation, you should speak to your visitation supervisor now to see if they offer holiday visitation options. If they don’t, you may be able to negotiate a phone call or other safe holiday contact directly with the children’s custodial parent. But you will need to be flexible and considerate of the reason the court didn’t give you unsupervised time with your children (for example, by abstaining from alcohol or drugs leading up to the visit).

Flexible Visitation and Making Your Holiday Visitation Schedule

If your child custody and visitation agreement includes a flexible visitation schedule, that gives parents the power to make their own holiday visitation schedule. Communicate with your co-parent to account for:

  • Each parent’s extended family holiday events
  • Your child’s holiday parties, school concerts, plays, etc.
  • Religious observances (including travel restrictions)
  • Making time for kids to celebrate with each parent, step-siblings, and half-siblings
  • Dividing the school break in keeping with your overall visitation schedule
  • Parents’ work schedules and days off

Try not to over-commit your kids’ time. Make sure they have time to relax during school breaks, and spend time with friends as well as family. If there are conflicts, talk to your co-parent and your children about which events are most important. Be ready to stand up for your children against your own extended family who may expect them to be at family reunions or gatherings.

Adjusting Your Child’s Holiday Visitation Within a Fixed Schedule

If your divorce or custody case was high-conflict, or if you preferred certainty to flexibility, your child custody order may include a fixed visitation schedule. This will likely include specific instructions for holiday visitation, such as:

  • Alternating holidays every other year (i.e. Mom gets Thanksgiving on odd years and Dad on even years)
  • Splitting school breaks in half (i.e. Mom gets the first week of Christmas break and Dad gets the second week)
  • Dividing multi-day holidays (i.e. dividing Christmas Eve and Christmas Day or the multiple nights of Hanukkah)
  • Splitting the day in half (i.e Thanksgiving day with Dad, and dinner with Mom)
  • Assigning fixed holidays (i.e. Mom will always have Christmas Eve and Dad will always have Christmas Day)

With a fixed schedule, you have two options when planning holiday parties and events:

  1. Agree to adjustments, often trading one day for another
  2. Be flexible with your own celebrations, scheduling a second event during your visitation

If you can’t come to an agreement with your spouse, you will need to follow the parenting plan set out by the court. However, you can still celebrate the holidays with your children during your own time. You might build a new tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on Black Friday or Christmas at New Year’s. Think about how you can make it special for your kids so it doesn’t feel second-best. Be mindful about how you incorporate extended family and friends in these celebrations so that your children don’t feel as though they have missed out.

Resolving Co-Parenting Disputes Over Holiday Visitation Schedules

Whether your visitation schedule is flexible or fixed, you can still face co-parenting disputes when key traditions and celebrations create scheduling conflicts or parenting priorities don’t align. But that doesn’t mean you need to run back to the courts. These kinds of co-parenting disputes are perfect for mediation or the collaborative process. Working with a mediator or collaborative professional to make a holiday visitation schedule will be faster, easier, and often less expensive than hiring a lawyer and filing a motion in court. And you can be certain the issue gets resolved in time for everyone to have a happy holiday.

At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our Maryland family lawyers are trained in collaborative divorce, mediation, and litigation strategies. We can help you make a holiday visitation schedule that works best for your family, and then stand by your side throughout that process. To talk to a collaborative divorce attorney or schedule a mediation, contact us today to schedule a confidential office consultation.

Categories: Custody