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Holiday Schedule Challenges in Divorce Negotiations

Holidays can be a lot of fun but they can also be very stressful, and for split families, holidays can be even more challenging. That’s why California family law requires divorced parents to create a holiday schedule with specific details for each holiday. Parents can reduce their stress levels, enjoy quality time and make lifelong memories with their children by creating a holiday schedule that works for both parents and their children. Parents need to remember that children associate holidays with happy times so the goal is to put differences aside and resolve areas of conflict to focus on making holidays a positive experience for all.

Parents can choose from several options when setting up a holiday schedule. It’s important to figure out which option works best for each holiday. Not all holidays have to be shared the same way and parents can use any combination of the options below:

Split the holiday in half: children spend part of the day with one parent and the rest with the other. This can be a good option if there is limited travel time and for important holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving, when parents don’t want to miss out on the holiday for a whole year. Parents need to name specific start and end times, as well as assign transportation responsibilities to avoid confusion on that day.

Alternate the holiday every year: one parent has the holiday on even years while the other has it on odd years. This option reduces the time children spend traveling, but it only works for parents who are comfortable not spending that holiday with their children every year.
Assign the same holiday to one parent every year: some holidays are more important to one parent than another so they may be assigned that way. This works well for parents of different religions, for example when one parent wants to celebrate Hanukah and the other Christmas.

Schedule the same holiday twice every year: this option is for parents who don’t want to miss a holiday every other year and don’t want to split the day. For example one parent can celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday while the other celebrates it on Friday.
3-day weekends can be split in different ways: for example alternating the 3-day weekend every year, splitting it in half, or alternate the holiday only.

Most holiday schedules include major holidays, such as New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and other religious holidays. Some parents can choose to add other holidays, especially if they get that day off at work, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, or Columbus Day. Remember to specify if the holiday includes the day only, or the 3-day weekend. For example, don’t expect to get the kids for a 3-day Labor Day weekend if your holiday schedule only mentions “Labor Day”. If parents live close to one another, it is very common for children to spend Mother’s Day with their mother and Father’s Day with their father. As for the children and parents’ birthdays, many parents choose to follow the regular visitation schedule and organize birthday celebrations whenever they have scheduled time with their children. Finally don’t forget that holidays and vacation time always supersede the regular visitation schedule.

Before deciding how to split each holiday, divorced parents need to make sure they will end up with a holiday schedule that will be most enjoyable to their children. An experienced family law mediator can be a very helpful resource when negotiating holiday arrangements. The mediator can discuss what usually works best for the family’s individual situation. He/she will also encourage and give advice to parents on how to start new family traditions and create new experiences, instead of trying to continue old family traditions.

To learn more about the mediation process, complete our request for a free online evaluation, and to receive a free 30-minute phone consultation, visit us at, or call 619-702-9174.

Rich Gordon's picture
Principal Mediator

A Fair Way Mediation Center offers a relaxed, compassionate atmosphere in an informal setting that encourages a calm and objective approach.  This is a safe space that avoids the stress and embarrassment that courtroom procedures can inject into any divorce or separation.  All couples are welcome, whether traditional or same sex families. An experienced Mediator, Mr.  Gordon has worked in all facets of alternate dispute resolution (ADR), with both individuals and organisations.  He brings a friendly approach that is conducive to cooperation.