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Keeping the holidays special for your children after divorce

One of the hardest things about divorce when you have kids is the impact on family holiday traditions. Most families develop holiday customs that create lifelong memories and that everyone - especially children - looks forward to with anticipation every year.

A caring parent will be concerned about impacting the magic of holiday traditions for children when it becomes clear that a divorce is going to change the way holidays are celebrated. It can be difficult too not to want to keep the children to yourself on major holidays and not share them with the other spouse and his or her extended family. But in most cases, unless there is a reason it is not in the children's best interest, keeping relationships with both parents and their extended families is good for children's development and sense of security.

The Texas Bar Journal has an insightful article about how parents after divorce can handle holiday issues in a way that will be emotionally healthy for children. For example, the author suggests that parents:

  • Put aside anger against the other parent.
  • Communicate with children ahead of time about holiday plans to give them time to digest what will happen and ask questions.
  • Include the children in designing new traditions.
  • Refrain from talking negatively about the other parent.
  • And more

Negotiate a holiday schedule

First we will look at the legal aspects of sharing the children during holidays in the Lone Star State. To put it simply, parents can negotiate the terms of custody and visitation in a settlement agreement in which they agree to the terms of their divorce. (Texas uses the terms conservatorship, possession and access to mean roughly what custody, physical custody and visitation mean in most other states.)

It is very smart to engage a lawyer to help you negotiate this agreement, especially as it pertains to details of visitation schedules. Regarding holidays, depending on the family, it may be a good idea to set out a very detailed schedule about who will have the children and when. Consider how new traditions might be created in separate households going forward and whether there are extended family holiday events that the children will want to attend on either side.

The standard possession order

If you set up your own agreement, it can be as unique as your family and children. If you cannot agree, visitation, including during holidays, will be decided by the judge in your divorce case. Texas law directs the judge to presume that the standard possession order or SPO will be in the best interest of your kids unless evidence is presented otherwise that it would not be inappropriate, unworkable or otherwise against their best interests.

(For children under three, the court has other factors to consider in crafting a more flexible schedule that allows consideration of the unique needs of an infant or toddler.)

The SPO is set out in detail in the Texas Family Code, covering exactly how weekends, spring break and summer vacation will be divided, down to the exact times, depending on whether the ex-spouses live less or more than 100 miles apart.

The SPO holiday schedule is the same no matter how far apart the spouses live. The holiday schedule is imposed on the managing conservator (usually the parent providing the primary residence) and the possessory conservator (usually the parent who gets visitation) as follows:

  • Christmas vacation is split into two periods (one contains Christmas, the other New Years), alternating the two periods between the parents yearly.
  • Thanksgiving break is alternated between the parents yearly.
  • On the child's birthday, the parent without regularly assigned possession that day may pick up the child at 6 p.m. and return him or her by 8 p.m.
  • Each parent gets the child for the weekend corresponding to his or her gender for Father's Day or Mother's Day.

Legislation is currently being proposed that would provide that same-sex parents would alternate yearly either Father's Day or Mother's Day, depending on their gender.

A parent who approaches holidays after divorce focused on the children's best interest can help the kids continue to have meaningful holiday experiences.

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