Holiday parenting schedules for separated or divorced parents

The holiday season is in full swing! For many families, the holidays are a time to come together. They are full of fun, magic, and happy memories. Yet, for separated or divorced parents, the holidays can be a time of great uncertainty, frustration, and conflict.

Determining which parent the children will spend the holidays with is a common point of contention amongst separated parents. This post provides an overview of holiday parenting schedules in Ontario. 

The holiday schedule overrides the regular parenting schedule.

During the holidays – whether that be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or New Year’s – it is common for families to depart from their regular parenting schedule. This allows children to spend time (and make holiday memories) with each of their parents during these special times. 

If you are formally separated or divorced, the holiday parenting schedule should be set out in your separation agreement or divorce order. Holiday schedules tend to be very specific. For example, they can include the exact time and place that the children will transition between parents. This helps avoid confusion and unnecessary conflict.

If parents can’t agree on a holiday schedule, they can ask the court for help.

It is always best for parents to agree on a holiday schedule (either on their own or with the help of their lawyers). If parents can’t agree or are unclear on the schedule, they may ask the court for help. They may also ask the court to change an existing schedule if it is no longer suitable for the children if, for example, the children outgrow the schedule or one parent moves.

The best interests of the children are paramount when determining holiday parenting schedules.

When parents call on the family court for help, a judge will set the holiday schedule. This schedule will be based on the best interests of the children. Each parent will have a chance to voice their concerns and ask the judge for a specific schedule; however, ultimately, the best interests of the children will always prevail and may trump the parents’ wishes if not aligned. 

Spending time with both parents is recognized by both the courts and by parenting professionals to be important for a child’s wellbeing and development. Accordingly, judges typically set parenting schedules that allow children to spend equal time with both parents because it is considered to be in the best interests of the child to do so. During the pandemic and throughout the holiday season, if the circumstances allow it, the courts set parenting schedules and holiday parenting schedules that give children equal time to spend with both parents. 

What does a court-ordered holiday schedule look like?

Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of case law on holiday parenting schedules. This case law serves as a good starting point for parents who are trying to negotiate their own holiday parenting schedules. Of course, what is in the ‘best interests of the children’ will vary from family to family (and even child to child). That said, the case law does provide an overview and insight into how the courts may structure holiday parenting time should parents be unable to agree to a schedule themselves.

3 common considerations of court-ordered holiday schedules: 

  1. Rotating special holiday times with each parent: 

Courts will often rotate special holiday times from one year to the next. For example, children may spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with one parent in odd-numbered years, and Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with the other parent in even-numbered years.

  1. Continuing family traditions: 

Where possible, courts will try to keep family traditions consistent. For example, if one side of the family typically gathers for dinner on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day, courts seek to maintain these traditions, allowing the children to participate in both events.

  1. Spending equal time with each parent: 

If there are special days over the holidays, parenting time during these days is often shared equally and then the rest of the holiday period is also shared equally. For example, Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day is considered special for many families. Courts aim to have children spend equal time with each parent during these days and then equal time with each parent for the remainder of the holiday period when they are out of school. It is common for children to be with one parent from noon on Christmas Eve to noon on Christmas Day and the other parent from noon on Christmas Day to Boxing Day.

Travel and parents living in different cities.

If parents wish to travel with the children over the holidays they can, so long as it does not interfere with the other parent’s time. For example, unless both parents agree, one parent cannot take the children out of town from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, preventing the children from seeing their other parent during these special days. That said, parents may agree to this type of arrangement if they feel like it is in the best interests of the children.

When parents live in different provinces, they may decide to alternate the entire holiday period from year to year. For example, one parent may have the children for the entire holiday break in 2021. Then, the other parent would have the children for the entire holiday break in 2022. Parents may also choose to schedule holiday time like this if they plan to travel with the children over the children’s school break.

Contact the Family Lawyers at NULaw in Toronto for assistance creating a holiday parenting schedule.

Setting a holiday parenting schedule can be challenging—especially if this is the first time you’re navigating the holiday season as a separated or divorced parent. While emotions and tension may be running high, it is important to remain calm and level-headed to make the holidays enjoyable and stress-free for the children. The focus should always be on the children and they should never be put in the middle of your parenting dispute. If you and your ex are having difficulty setting a holiday schedule, it is helpful to speak with a lawyer. 

The skilled and experienced family lawyers at NULaw can help you identify your options and negotiate a fair resolution to your holiday parenting dispute. We have extensive experience helping our clients reach fair and amicable solutions to all of their parenting issues, including parenting time and child support. Contact us at 416-481-5604 or online to schedule a consultation.

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