How to Design a Custody Holiday Schedule

Communicate holiday budgets and schedules with your co-parent.
Matthew Carter
July 1, 2021
Start managing shared expenses with your co-parent easily!

veryone loves the holidays, because they’re the special times of year that we set aside just for our families. As wonderful as these times can be, we can sometimes make them harder by expecting the world of ourselves, hoping everything goes just right. And that’s before unexpected emergencies and expenses arise, which they often do.

Parental separation and divorce are never easy at the best of times and the added stress of the holiday season can make an already tense situation worse. Juggling multiple households, work schedules, extended families, and unchecked expectations can stress you out and make it hard to enjoy yourself.

Creating a custody holiday schedule is tougher than it looks, but we’re here to help!

This article will look at the things co-parents need to think about when making custody holiday schedule decisions, so life can be easier when the holidays hit:

  • The legal obligations you might have and how to make a fair, enforceable agreement.
  • What a shared custody holiday schedule might actually look like for your family.
  • Practical shared expense issues and how to solve them before they become full-fledged problems.

Holiday Custody and Legal Considerations

Father and son take silly selfie

For most, parenting during the holidays is stressful enough already. A legal separation or divorce adds a whole new challenge to the mix:. Your child now has competing demands on their holiday time. Though it may feel like you face these challenges alone, rest assured that you are not the first person (or the millionth!) to deal with complex child custody questions.

First things first: When a separation happens, there are always going to be legal considerations. Is one of you the primary custodial parent? If so, it’s important to remember that the non-custodial parent has a legal right to spend time with the kid during important holidays and times of the year, particularly on meaningful religious holidays.

Parent and child rights should always be the first issues in your mind when designing a regular parenting time schedule. No one wants to make a mistake and get dragged into family court; unnecessary fights and conflict with your ex can lead to just that. Worse, you could be held in contempt of court or make later custody hearings more difficult for yourself. It’s worth spending more time now to avoid big fights later.

Many parents think that they can get through a divorce or separation by making an informal agreement, particularly regarding special occasions and holidays. It’s a nice thought, but in this case, “informal” usually means “breakable.”

It may still be a good idea to get a court order stating the custody arrangement. If there’s a later misunderstanding or you feel that your co-parent isn’t living up to what they agreed, the court can intervene and set things straight.

You may feel that getting a court order is unnecessary or sends the wrong message to your co-parent, but it can be a mature and thoughtful way of preventing fights. The decision of where your child spends Christmas Eve is done long before winter even begins and the ability to plan ahead will make everyone’s holiday more enjoyable.

Designing a Custody Holiday Schedule

Custody holiday schedule calendar

After you’ve figured out the best way to set up and stick to your custody schedule, you need to make sure that this aspect of your parenting plan covers all the bases.

A custody holiday schedule involves more than arranging pick-ups and drop-offs. Your agreement or court order should include a holiday visitation schedule, including but not limited to the following holidays:

  • Winter Break (including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day)
  • Spring Break
  • Religious holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Eid ul-Fitr, Easter Sunday, etc.)
  • Other school breaks (like fall break or state holidays)
  • Summer vacation
  • Fourth of July
  • Three-day weekends throughout the year (including Martin Luther King Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day)
  • Thanksgiving Day and the following long weekend
  • Halloween (especially important for small children, even though it usually doesn’t mean a break from school)
  • Your child’s birthday
  • Family vacations

Note that any given holiday doesn’t need to be spent with the same parent every year. Your arrangement, even with a court order, is totally up to you. So, you can have your child spend Christmas with one parent in even-numbered years, and the other parent in odd-numbered years. Or you can switch Christmas Eve and Christmas Day every year.

Also keep in mind that some holidays, especially Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, may need to be spent with one parent or the other.

However you decide to design your family’s holiday schedule, keep in mind that a family court judge will always have the best interest of the child as their most important consideration. Trying to see it that way will help you be the best possible co-parent.

So do your best to share and be flexible, even on those holidays where you really, really want to see your kid. If everyone can follow this basic rule, it should make creating and following a custody agreement for the holidays just a tad bit easier.

Shared Expenses and Other Issues

Custody holiday schedule: Red gifts and piggy bank

One thorny issue that can raise its head with custody holiday schedules is the tracking and paying of a child’s expenses. It’s no surprise that kids cost a lot of money, and those bills don’t just stop until school resumes.

Holiday gifts, special vacations to visit grandparents, and medical emergencies can all result in higher-than-expected costs over the holidays. You need to make sure that both parents are fairly sharing the costs.

Fortunately, Onward has designed an app that can help you share your expenses and give you one less thing to worry about as you plan your custody schedule.

The Onward app is specially designed to help you simplify financial tracking and communication with your co-parent. No matter when you have your child on the holidays, you can keep a clear log of all expenses and make sure they are reimbursed. The app reduces the need to talk about money or ask each other to pay something back, and keeps photos of receipts to help both co-parents feel confident in what they’re paying for.

For example, let’s say your kid’s birthday is coming up. You know they are going to want to invite five friends to their party, and that they’re going to want to have it at a specific arcade. You budget $300 for the party.

Ensemble screenshot of money request

You can know in advance that your co-parent and you agree to the expense and reduce anxiety that you’ll be repaid if you upfront the money for the birthday party. There’s no mystery surrounding who pays for what, and everybody (especially your child) walks away happy, without a single awkward phone call, unnecessary text, or messy spreadsheet.

Onward is not only intuitive and easy to use — it’s also flexible. If your plans change at the last minute or you need to submit an unexpected expense, it can help you do this in a fair way that minimizes tense communication while you’re trying to enjoy your holidays.

The app’s activity feed ensures that you and your co-parent will always be on the same page. Any questions about a given entry can be backed up with receipts or other documentation, without the use of cumbersome emails or external spreadsheets. Your expense issues can be resolved quicker with less work, giving you more quality parenting time.

The Onward app can help you reach your goal for a lower-stress holiday experience with your family. You can download the app on iOS or Android devices.

Lower Your Stress for the Holidays

We’ll never be able to completely remove the stress from holidays, particularly where shared custody arrangements are concerned. But you can manage both your expectations and any problems that arise.

The first step is always to know what’s expected of you — by your ex, by the court, and by your child! Once everybody’s on the same page, use technology and gentle reminders to make sure everyone stays there.

Agreeing how to handle holidays and special occasions in advance can be annoying, but it also gives you the chance to work together and build confidence through small wins as co-parents. Your separation wasn’t easy, but now you can move forward and celebrate the things that are still important to all of you.

Start managing shared expenses with your co-parent easily!

Matthew Carter

Matthew Carter has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He has successfully handled a variety of trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal courts. Matthew has done pro bono work in the Las Vegas community representing foster children and helping reunite families separated in the Las Vegas family court system.