The Dreaded Winter Break.

My favorite holiday song is Andy Williams’ version of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  Something about that song encapsulates everything that is special about the winter holiday season.  There are the lights, the food, the family, and the nostalgia of being a kid at Christmas.  Now that I have a family of my own, seeing this special season through the eyes of my own children makes it all feel that much more real and special. However, for many divorced or divorcing parents the winter break is a difficult time.  In this blog I want to address a couple common issues that divorcing parents face and with them provide some advice for enjoying the holidays in spite of the difficulties of a divorce.

When splitting isn’t easy

Nearly all child custody schedules contain a provision about splitting a child’s winter break from school.  Typically, the Winter Break will be split equally between the parents with one parent having the first half and the other parent having the second half.  So while that may sound easy, it is not.  In fact of all of the problems that arise during this time of year, splitting the Winter Break is the most common.

To the extent it is possible, parties should draft their Winter Break schedule to be as detailed as possible, but also to allow for flexibility. I also try to avoid orders where the actual holiday Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are split between the parties.  Doing so tends to lead to multiple exchanges of the children over a very short period of time.  This year is a good example of how this can be a problem.  Many school children will get out of school on the December 23rd and Christmas Eve is the next day.  Over the course of a few days, a child could be shuffled between their two houses four or five times.

Instead, I recommend that parties agree to split the Winter Break independent of Christmas such that each parent gets one-half of the days during the break and each rotate which parent will have the first half that includes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

It is not always exactly equal, but over the course of several years it will even out.

Having two Christmases

If I had a dollar for all of the times I have heard a judge tell a litigant that children are happy to have two Christmas celebrations, I would have about 21 dollars. Two Christmases always seemed silly until I realized I have been doing that same thing for years.  My family travels every Christmas to be with family and celebrate the holidays together.   In order to accommodate suitcases space or space in a car, we always do a little pre-Christmas celebration with just the immediate family.  Gifts are exchanged and a nice dinner is made.  Even though it is not actually Christmas, it feels very much like that. Remember, Christmas is much more than a day; Christmas is what you make it.

I usually suggest to clients who will not have actual Christmas, to plan their time with the children with several fun activities such as going to Sea World, the movies, or skiing.  Then I tell them to plan a special “Second Christmas” with a big dinner and presents.

I have heard from several clients about how they have adopted new family traditions that include a “Second Christmas” for both parents.  The kids know every year that they will have another Christmas, so they look forward what that celebration will entail.  Whatever you decide to do, make the time fun and enjoyable for you and your children.

Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding dividing a child’s Winter Break. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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