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Custody During the Holidays

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How to Create Agreements That Help Kids Enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Winter Break

going-bob-Lancaster-County-PennsylvaniaBy Robert M. Going, Jr., Attorney

Most families agree that holiday breaks are special. So many of these celebrations incorporate family traditions, religious observances, and cultural traditions. Holidays also allow parents to spend more time with their children. No wonder so many parents cherish the holidays.

When parents are separated or divorced, holiday time becomes more precious. Many families include a holiday schedule, also referred to as a holiday visitation schedule, in their custody agreement. Including special accommodations during breaks and holidays allows both parents and children to plan ahead. Letting children know where they are spending holidays is another way to reduce custody stress.

There are many factors to consider when developing a holiday custody schedule. Here are some tips that may help.

Start by Listing Important Days

Holidays are any day that a family considers special. These may include federal holidays that include time out of school, birthdays, cultural holidays, religious observances, or family traditions. Every family is different, so it’s helpful to identify the holidays that matter to each household.

Most families want to include federal holidays. On these holidays, non-essential federal government offices are closed. In addition, schools often close for federal holidays and may even offer an extended break, such as winter break during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Federal holidays in Pennsylvania include New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.

For many families, religious celebrations are also important. For some, Easter, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, or Christmas may be the most important day of the year.

It’s also helpful to list special occasions such as birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, family reunions, traditional family gatherings, and school holidays.

Each family has different needs and preferences. As such, there are strategies parents can use to assign holiday custody.

Assign Holidays by Parent

In some families, it makes sense to assign certain holidays and special occasions based on what each parent celebrates. For example, a mother might want custody of her child on Mother’s Day.


Religious holidays may have similar associations. For example, in a mixed-faith marriage, a Jewish father might want custody of his children during Yom Kippur.

Similarly, some holidays have special meaning to one parent. For example, if one parent’s family has a big Fourth of July celebration each year, that parent may want custody on that day each year.

Split the Holiday 

For some holidays, parents split the day, so the child spends part of the day with each parent. For example, one parent has the child in the morning and early afternoon, and the other has custody for the remainder of the day.

Some holiday celebrations last more than 24 hours, allowing parents to split the time over days. For example, one parent might have Christmas Eve, and the other has custody on Christmas Day. In another example, one parent might have custody on the first four nights of Hannukah, and the other has the next four nights.

Alternate Holidays

For some families, splitting a day or a holiday is impractical. Perhaps parents live far apart. Maybe switching custody frequently is stressful. In these instances, parents choose to create child custody agreements with alternating holidays.

In these agreements, it’s common for one parent to get custody on a particular holiday one year while the other gets it the following year.


Parents often choose alternate holidays within a year to ensure they spend some holidays with their child every year. For example, if the first parent gets custody on Halloween and Thanksgiving, the second gets custody on Christmas. The following year, the second parent gets custody on Halloween and Thanksgiving, and the first parent gets Christmas.

Start and End Times for Holiday Custody

In addition to assigning holidays, parents will also need to add details on pick-up and drop-off times. When does a holiday begin and end? Are drop-off times different?

It’s wise to document the start and end times for each holiday. For example, Halloween custody might be from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on October 31. Another example might be an Easter custody agreement that begins on the Thursday before Easter at 3 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m. on Easter Sunday.

Don’t Forget to Add Special Holiday Considerations

Holidays usually involve a lot of planning and special events. That’s why it’s smart to consider all factors and any exceptional circumstances. For example, who purchases a Halloween costume? Does transportation differ? Will bedtime change? Is a child allowed to stay up late to watch fireworks?

These details may seem tedious when creating an agreement, but they can help derail conflict down the road.

Amending Holiday Agreements

As a child grows, many considerations change. At some point, most families find they want to amend holiday custody schedules.

Once a parent wants to make changes to the approved custody agreement, they should notify the other parent in writing. Sometimes a lawyer will help amend an agreement. Any changes must be approved with signatures from each parent and filed appropriately with the court.

Ensure these changes are appropriately documented to avoid being held in contempt of custody orders.

Looking for an Experienced Custody Attorney?

Having a custody expert on your side can help ensure a fair hearing. Going and Plank’s custody lawyer can explain the law, share common arrangements, prepare clients for hearings, and help create or adjust custody agreements. Contact us today for guidance on custody arrangements, family law, divorce, and more.

Want to find out more about child custody? Check out these articles from Going and Plank:

How Lancaster County Families Put Children First in Custody Agreements

Are There Ways to Reduce Child Custody Stress?

Sometimes 50/50 Custody Isn’t the Best Arrangement

Summer Custody Arrangements can be Challenging. We Share Tips for Fair Agreements

Long-Distance Custody Requires Special Considerations

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