Holiday Visitation Issues

Having a holiday visitation schedule can make life easier because it lays out where the children will be spending each holiday without having to continually negotiate with your ex. 

By | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D.

While each state has its own individual visitation recommendations for holidays, parents generally rotate holidays such as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. The children are usually with the mother on Mother's Day and the father on Father's Day. When the parents live far apart, the schedule is adjusted to compensate for travel times.

Christmas vacation is usually split evenly between the parents. For example, one parent will have the first half of the Christmas break and the other parent will have the last half (and this will alternate every year).

The holiday visitation schedule usually takes precedence over the regular repeating schedule, so both parents need to take this into consideration when setting up their visitation schedule for the year. For example, if the non-custodial parent will miss the regular visitation time due to the other parent having that holiday, the regular schedule will resume after the holiday.

Even with a holiday schedule in place, there may still be questions that come up. To get more insight on the subject, read through the various answers from the legal expert on how to handle holiday visitation issues:

What happens to the holiday visitation schedule if custody changes?

Kimberley's Question: We had a visitation schedule that included holidays which was granted over a year ago. He then filed for full custody and the judge granted me physical custody. The paper work I got from the court says nothing about a holiday schedule. Does that mean we have to make a new holiday schedule? I'm under the impression that the old orders are void and the visitation he has now doesn't include a holiday schedule. I'm so confused.

Brette's Answer: The old order is superseded by the new one. You either need to agree to a schedule or go to court. If the old holiday schedule worked, sticking with it would be smart and it's likely a court order it again.

Does he get two weekends in a row or do I get the weekend after his holiday?

Nicole's Question: The parenting plan gives me custody every other weekend.  My ex is trying to say because he gets Easter which would have been my weekend he also gets the next weekend. Does he get two weekends in a row or would my next weekend fall after his holiday?

Brette's Answer: The way that holiday visitation works is that it trumps the existing schedule.  So if you have every other weekend, you get weekend A he gets weekend B, you get weekend C and he gets weekend D. If a holiday falls on weekend A and it's his holiday, he gets that weekend. The schedule then continues as it normally would, so if weekend B is his, he gets it. Otherwise the holiday would actually not give the other parent extra time. The thing to remember is that although it might not seem fair right now, it's going to work in your favor in the future when a holiday that you have falls on his weekend.

What if it’s my holiday with the kids but his weekend for visitation?

Elena's Question: Xmas day is mine according to our parenting plan. My ex has his normal parenting time on Xmas weekend. Meaning, he would pick my son up on Friday and he won't bring him back until 3 pm on Christmas day. I am asking him to bring my son home on Saturday before Xmas. Am I right?

Brette's Answer: Holiday visitation always trumps regular parenting days. If Christmas is your day, he should be at your home by bedtime the day before.

What if holiday visitation and birthday visitation occur at the same time?

Melissa's Question: My holiday visit coincides with my son’s birthday and his birthday is supposed to be split in half between his father and me. I say the holiday trumps the birthday and I should have him all day. 

Brette's Answer: This is something you will need to try to work out and if you can't the court will decide. My inclination would be the court would say the birthday is more important than the holiday so that schedule should be followed, but that's just my prediction. In my opinion your child's birthday is a big deal for him and that should be the focus. A half and half split allows your kid to spend the day with both parents.

Can he take our son even if it's my holiday weekend?

Elise's Question: We are separated and waiting for the divorce paperwork to go thru. We have a parenting agreement set up that allows my ex to have parenting time on alternating weekends. He now wants our 5 year old on back to back weekends which I did not agree to. Can I stop him from seeing him on 1 of the weekends, especially because it would be my holiday?

Brette's Answer: If the order clearly states it is your weekend he has no claim.

Is regular visitation waived if it comes after the holiday schedule?

Meagan's Question: This year he gets the kids until 6pm Sunday under the holiday visitation schedule, but his regular visitation is also at the same time and continues through Monday morning. Will he only get the holiday time and lose his regular visitation because holidays have priority over the residential schedule?

Brette's Answer: Holiday time takes precedence over regular visits, however since his normal weekend time would continue past the holiday time, my reading of it would be that he gets the child through Monday. Things do become challenging at this time of year with holiday and regular visits, but that is the way it works. It will likely work in your favor for another holiday.

Does holiday visitation take precedence over a vacation?

Question: Re: vacation time vs. holiday time. Which has precedence when it's not listed under Utah state code (default parenting plan) or in our divorce decree? I am planning my 2 week vacation during my Ex's holiday visitation weekend.

Brette's Answer: I don't know what the precedent is in your state, but I would say holiday takes precedence over vacation time because the holiday is set in stone and you can schedule your vacation when you choose. If you can't change when your vacation is, why don't you offer your ex-husband another weekend in exchange for missing the holiday? That would be a fair way to handle this, or give him your next holiday.

Is the weekend visitation extended if July 4th is on a Monday?

Jodi's Question: Since July 4th is on a Monday this year, does that extend my custodial parent summer weekend visit until Monday?

Brette's Answer: Holiday visitation is separate from weekend visits. Your order may say who gets that holiday. If not mentioned it is treated like any other day.  

Do I lose Thanksgiving weekend if he gets the kids for school breaks?

Jessica's Question: My ex gets school breaks and I get one weekend a month. The weekend after thanksgiving is my weekend. It is my understanding that a school break is during the week due to the fact that they only go to school during the week. Can he take my weekend?

Brette's Answer: I don't know how this is defined in your state, by your court. Most people usually think of a school break as encompassing the weekend it goes with. If that is the case in your state, he should give you another weekend to make up for it.

How do we handle Christmas if he missed Thanksgiving visitation?

Jennifer's Question: My ex-husband is currently in prison and will be released soon. We alternate holidays with our daughter, and he was supposed to have her over Thanksgiving but was incarcerated. Does that mean he automatically gets her at Christmas time since I had her at Thanksgiving? Or do I stay on the holiday visitation schedule and keep her for Christmas?

Brette's Answer: Jennifer - this could really go either way. On the one hand, you had a plan and he didn't follow it. On the other hand, it wasn't exactly within his control (although incarceration certainly isn't a gold star on his side of the argument). How about splitting Christmas Day with him?

What if the holiday visitation periods overlap?

Gabrielle's Question: According to my decree, my ex is scheduled to take the kids for the Thanksgiving holiday (November 24-Dec. 1). I am scheduled to take the kids for the first 4 nights of Hanukah (November 27-30) this year. How do we do this?

Brette's Answer: Since the holidays are overlapping, you should try to figure out a compromise. There are lots of options:

  • He gets the kids 11/24-12/1 and in exchange you get Thanksgiving and the first 4 nights of Hanukah next year
  • He gets them 11/24-11/29 and you get them 11/29-12/1
  • You take the rest of Hanukah and he has them through 12/1

What if he's supposed to get the kids when school lets out for Christmas but doesn't want to come until Monday?

Belinda's Question: My ex is supposed to pick the kids up the day school lets out for Christmas, but does not want to come until Monday so he can party the same weekend school lets out? Can I stop him from picking them up on Monday?

Brette's Answer: If your order specifies a set visitation and he doesn't come, he forfeits it. You're free to work out a compromise together.

Would the court recognize Head Start's holiday schedule?

K.F's Question: I have a 4yr old that goes to head start, which lets out for Christmas vacation before the regular school. Someone said my child is considered as being in school, so it goes by when school regularly gets out. My ex's attorney told him that by law, head start is not a school so it doesn't count. The divorce papers say Christmas visitation starts when the child's school vacation starts. If courts don't recognize head start, then what school are they referring to?

Brette's Answer: Generally such an order refers to mandated schooling, but any judge would likely want your child to get the benefit of Head Start, so this is something you could seek to have clarified by the court.

Does he forfeit Christmas because he frequently misses visitation?

Julie's Question: My fiancé has scheduled visitation every other weekend. Because of his job, he misses visitations with his children frequently (which is something his ex-wife knew would happen before the divorce). Per the court order, he is supposed to get the children for Christmas break this year, but his ex-wife has made plans to take them to her parents. She says that because he misses visitations, he doesn't get them at Christmas. Is this legal?

Brette's Answer: No. The schedule can only be changed by agreement of the parties. Missing visitation does not mean the other parent can have MORE time.

Can he alter the schedule to include 3 days of Hanukah celebration?

Jennifer's Question: My ex is Jewish and I am Catholic. Thus we have not had holiday issues in the past. The kids are with me on Christmas Eve and Day, and his family celebrates Hanukah just on one day. He has NEVER done more than a one day celebration of Hanukah. This year he wants to take them for 3 days over Christmas break, claiming it's the last 3 days of Hanukah. I was planning to take the kids away for a few days during my regular parenting time. Can he do that?

Brette: It depends on what your order says. Holidays always trump regular visitation, but if he has never celebrated Hanukah for more than one night it would be unusual for him to get them.

Can he change holiday visitation due to work conflicts?

R's Question: My ex is the custodial parent. In our custody order, I am supposed to get my children for the Thanksgiving holiday. We live hundreds of miles apart and in the order we are to meet halfway. He now says that it is mandatory for him to work during Thanksgiving and he cannot bring the children for the visitation. He says he can prove this if I take him to court. Can he excuse himself from contempt if he can show he had to work, or does this mean he violates the order?

Brette's Answer: The order stands and he must comply with it unless the judge decides to modify the order.

He's threatening to take me to court if I don't change the holiday visitation schedule.

Tiffany's Question: My ex lives in another state and doesn't take our son every other weekend like he is ordered. We made plans that he would take our son the day of Christmas and stay with him until he has to go back to school. Now he wants our son Dec 23 through 26, which means I don't get to spend any type of Christmas with him. If I don't let him go, my ex says he will take me back to court for keeping our son from him. I don't see how he can do this when our state law says that if it's not my weekend then I get him on Christmas day.

Brette's Answer: Let him file - he's unlikely to get a court date before then (the courts are jammed this time of year with just these kinds of problems). Stick to what your order says or what you can agree to together. If you can't agree, you go by the order.

Can he cancel the verbal agreement we had about holiday visitation?

Sonia's Question: We share joint custody 50/50. I made a verbal agreement with my ex that I would have our children during Thanksgiving Break "His Week" and He would have them during Christmas Break "My week", which means we would both have the kids for 2 weeks back to back. Now he is saying he no longer wants to go along with our verbal agreement. We made this agreement about 6 months ago so I could make travel arrangements and ask for time off of work. Can he go back on our verbal agreement?

Brette's Answer: Yes he can because it is not court ordered. It's likely a court would tell you to follow the written agreement unless there is a good reason not to. » Return to top of Holiday Visitation Issues

Is it reasonable for the out-of-state-parent to have all holidays?

Tammy's Question: Right now my husband has 3 weekends a month, half of Easter and Thanksgiving, the Second half of Christmas, and two weeks during the summer with his son. When we move out of state, he would like to have all of the summer, Easter and Thanksgiving, and at least one weekend a month (attached to whatever holiday falls in that month). On Christmas, we would pick his son up at 2:00 on Christmas day and keep him until the weekend before school starts. Is what we are asking a reasonable request?

Brette's Answer: It isn't reasonable to ask for every holiday. Holidays are usually alternated. But monthly visits are reasonable and so is a shared summer. You might consider making a list of all holidays and alternating through them.

Who will get our son on Easter weekend?

Stephanie's Question: I was to get our child spring break; Easter is included in the child's spring break, but under the father's holidays it says "Easter weekend (if not included in spring break). So who gets my son on Easter weekend?

Brette's Answer: From what you have written it sounds like spring break is yours and if it includes Easter you get that as well. 

Is the Easter holiday Sunday only or does it include Good Friday?

Debbie's Question: If Easter is one of your holidays to have your child(ren), is that technically Sunday only, or would good Friday be considered as part of that holiday?  Easter is not 'spelled' out in the papers, other than it changes every year.

Brette's Answer: Easter is considered to be Easter Sunday in the same way Christmas does not include Christmas Eve unless specified. 

Does he get Father's Day visitation if it isn't in the parenting plan?

Jasmine's Question: I live in Illinois and I have custody of my two kids. Their father recently was granted parenting time and in the order it only states Thanksgiving, Christmas eve, and New Year's (eve) for the holidays. It doesn't state anything about father's day. He want to take me back to court because the kids didn't go with him for father's day he said its standard Illinois law for the mother to have them on mother's day and father on father's day.

Brette's Answer: It general practice for this to be the case in most states, but it is not written into a law. You can either decide to agree to it or pay the attorney fees involved in going back to court where it will likely be changed to reflect this.

How can we setup visitation between three parties (me, father and mother) that will be reasonable to the courts?

Ana's Question: I have had custody of my grandson for the past 8 years. The mother lives over 3 hours away and has recently been granted unsupervised visitation. We are due to go to mediation to discuss holidays & summer visitations. How can we set-up visitations between three parties (myself, father and mother) that will be reasonable to the courts?

Brette's Answer: Could you combine holidays with the parent who is your child? For example, if the child's father is your son, perhaps you could share Thanksgiving together as a family. Then you could alternate the other holidays with the child's other parent. So for example, Thanksgiving would be with you/father, Christmas to mother, Easter to you/father, and so on. Summer vacation could be evenly divided among the parties. School breaks could be alternated or split in half.