Navigating Holiday Celebrations After Divorce: 8 Tips for a Stress-Free Co-Parenting Experience

By: Robinson & Henry, Attorneys At Law
PublishedJan 27, 2023
7 minute read

When you’re married, vacations, holidays and family traditions are a shared experience. Divorce forces you and your ex to divide these important days, which can be especially difficult if families live far enough apart to necessitate traveling during holidays and school breaks. 

That’s why it’s incredibly important for both parties to make definitive choices on holiday and vacation schedules due to the heightened emotions surrounding this precious time with your children and family. We invite you to use this article as a starting point as you consider how you’ll spend important days with your children post-divorce.

Bottom Line

Learn how to make the most of holidays after a divorce and create a stress-free co-parenting experience for your family.

Table of Contents

  1. Family Traditions and Gatherings
  2. Travel Planning and Needs
  3. Spending Time with Each Parent
  4. 8 Ways to Divide Vacations and Holidays
  5. Planning Ahead and Enforcing Court Orders

Considerations as You Divide Vacations and Holidays

There are a number of ways parents split up vacations and holidays with their children after divorce. Whatever approach you end up taking, it is best to spell out in your divorce agreement exactly how time and costs will be shared. This agreement is a safety net of sorts if a disagreement occurs down the road.

Before you begin to write your plan, take some time to consider several factors that will affect your new schedule as separate parents.

Family Traditions and Gatherings

Some families have extremely important traditions, especially around major holidays like Thanksgiving and the December holidays.

It is important to give weight to these traditions and decide whether to keep them or if they need to be modified. If your children are old enough, talk to them about which traditions they hold most dear and which ones they’re willing to change.

Traditions can also add a level of stability for children as they adjust in their lives, particularly in the first few years after a divorce.

Working to maintain traditions is time well spent. However, building new ones can also be valuable.

Travel Planning and Needs

If you are considering splitting up longer vacations such as summer break, it’s important to discuss the logistics of how you’ll spend that extended time with your child.

Will you have the space and resources to care for your children for a couple of months at a time? What actions will you need to take in order to make their stay as comfortable as possible?

Travel Costs

If your child lives a long distance from you or your ex, transportation costs will be a factor. 

Generally speaking, the parent exercising parenting time (the parent who the child is traveling to see) is responsible for transportation costs. However, this can be modified in the agreement if, say, one parent is in a better financial position to pay for travel. Also, if a parent moves away with the child, that parent could be asked to cover travel expenses for the child to visit the other parent. 

You should explicitly address in the written separation or divorce agreement who pays for travel and under what circumstances.

If You Have Young Children

The cost of travel should also include the cost of an adult to travel with children under the age of 12 or otherwise unable to travel alone.

If you live in another state and your children need to fly to stay with you, be sure to take into consideration the higher cost of travel for each child.

Also keep in mind that airlines have varying policies for unaccompanied minors. Children younger than 5 years old may not fly alone under any circumstance. One parent must accompany them on each leg of the flight. That means you or your spouse must purchase at least one additional round-trip ticket.

Children Should Spend Time with Each Parent

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, both parents deserve the opportunity to spend holidays with their children.

The courts see this as a priority, as well. Attempting to claim all major holidays for yourself is not a good look.

Circumstances can change. For example, your children may have different holiday schedules for the different schools they attend. Parents may change jobs, remarry, and bring other children and their schedules into the mix.

Flexibility and civility are key. Additionally, you should continue to communicate with the other parent throughout the children’s time at home.

Holiday Schedules

Typically, parents rotate main holidays within a calendar year and flip the rotation each year.

For example, you can specify that father has holidays, such as Thanksgiving and July Fourth, during even years and mother has those holidays during odd years. You can even rotate Christmas Eve and Christmas morning so both parents get an opportunity to enjoy those important times, particularly if the children are younger. 

Days and Times

The day, or date, and time the holiday schedule takes effect is important, especially if it conflicts with the regular parenting time schedule.

Since some holidays are always on a particular day you can specify a day and time the holiday weekend begins. Take Thanksgiving: it’s always the last Thursday in November. An example may be, “Thanksgiving Day and the following Friday until 8:30 p.m.” De Koning v. De Koning, 2012 Colo. Dist. LEXIS 2118, *8

For holidays that are on varying days of the week, such as Christmas Day, you can specify that parenting time begins and ends on certain days preceding and following the holiday: 

“Christmas Eve at 8:30 p.m. through end of winter break, including New Year’s.” De Koning v. De Koning

Travel Days

If you and your former spouse live far enough apart that extended travel is required, schedule travel days for holidays, vacations, and school breaks into the parenting time agreement.

Do not count a travel day as parenting time.

Exchange Location

This is especially important if the parties’ relationship is acrimonious. You may want to exchange your children in a public place or with a neutral third party who can facilitate the exchange.

It may not be practical to set the same location for every exchange, especially if a significant amount of traveling is involved.

Holiday Precedence

Include a statement spelling out that holiday parenting time supersedes regular and vacation parenting time. This means that regardless of who has regular parenting time, the parent who is assigned the holiday will get the children. Including this in your parenting plan will help you avoid confusion later.


For all family birthdays, including the children, the parents, grandparents, and extended family if needed. The parenting plan can be modified post-decree if provisions for step-parent and step-sibling birthdays are required.

Now that you have an idea of some of the factors you’ll want to take into account when you lay out a holiday plan, let’s get into how you can divvy up holidays and vacations. 

8 Ways to Divide Vacations & Holidays for Divorced Parents

We’re going to outline eight of the most common ways our team sees divorced parents divide vacations and holidays with their children. Of course, you and your spouse may find a schedule that works better for your families – and that’s good, too.

1. Split the Day

Some families have customs that are very important on each holiday, and neither wants to give up the traditions. In order to celebrate them both, some parents will split major holidays. For instance, the children will spend the morning with one parent and the afternoon with the other.

Some downsides to this arrangement: 

  • the children are exhausted by the additional excitement and upheaval
  • a good chunk of the day could be spent shuttling the children from one home to another

2. Alternate Holidays

This is a pretty common way many parents choose to treat bigger holidays. 

Here’s how it works:

Parent 1 has the children on Thanksgiving Day and Parent 2 has them for Christmas Day. The following year, Parent 2 gets the children on Thanksgiving Day and Parent 1 has them on Christmas Day.

It is an equitable agreement that allows your children to have a full and relaxing day with one side of the family.

3. Spend the Holiday Together

For obvious reasons, this option is not suitable for all divorced parents. If your divorce was amicable enough that you and your ex-partner can still spend time together, this may be a good option for you. Everyone (including new partners) can enjoy the moment, and the children are able to see the entire family on every holiday.

Again, this only works if you and your former spouse are civil to each other and any new significant others. If being in the same home creates tension, this is not the right option.

Be honest with yourself about how this arrangement will affect you and everyone involved: your children, your ex, and new spouses.

4. Create an Alternate Holiday “Day”

If the idea of giving up a major holiday does not sit well with you, you could consider creating a new holiday tradition on an entirely different day.

Here’s an example: One parent celebrates Christmas Dec. 25 and the other Jan. 1. The holiday traditions can be honored and the children can celebrate with both parents.

5. Split or Alternate the Breaks

When longer school vacations, such as winter and summer breaks, come along, dividing up all of that free time can become an issue.

One way to manage parenting time during breaks is to alternate the weeks the children spend with each parent. This will let you spend an extended amount of time with the kiddos.

Another option, rather than alternate weeks, is for you and your former spouse to alternate entire breaks. One of you hosts the children on winter break and the other takes them during the summer break. The following year, you can switch out.

6. Continue with Normal Parenting Time Schedule

If the idea of splitting up the smaller holidays like July Fourth or Presidents’ Day is too stressful, you and your ex can stick to the regular parenting time schedule to keep things simple.

However, if you do that, your parenting schedule will not change during holidays like Memorial Day, Presidents’ Day, and Labor Day. Keep in mind these smaller holidays often come with time off from work and school, often for three-day weekends. 

If you do not specify that you would like to have your children for these long weekends, you may miss an opportunity for a quality three-day weekend with your kids.

7. Designate Constant Holidays

Some holidays may not have particular importance to you, but they could be important to your ex.

Holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the parent’s birthday make sense for the children to spend the day with that particular parent.

In these cases, it is simple enough to designate those as constant days that you and your ex will spend with the children every year.

8. Digital Celebration

Sometimes a parent may have commitments or jobs that prevent them from celebrating with their children in person.

Fortunately, we live in a time of advanced digital communications. Make an agreement with your former spouse to have a digital celebration of sorts when you cannot be there in person.

Make a Plan, Don’t Spend Your Holidays Alone

It is incredibly important to put in writing a complete schedule for holiday parenting time. If you neglect this portion of the divorce, you could end up spending holidays alone.

Not having a solid plan in place also opens you up to spending unnecessary time arguing with your ex about the holidays.

Once the schedule is documented, there will be far less room for disputes.

If Your Ex Does Not Comply with the Holiday Schedule

If your ex-spouse won’t follow the holiday plan, you can file a motion with the court alleging that the other parent is not complying with the parenting time schedule. Read our article to learn more about enforcing family court orders.

If the court finds that your ex did not comply, a judge may order extra parenting time to make up for the lost holiday time.

Let Us Help You Create a Holiday Schedule

The family law attorneys at Robinson & Henry can help take the stress out of the holidays by working with you to create a fair holiday schedule. Call 303-688-0944 today to begin your case assessment.

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