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Holiday parenting plans: do I have 2 options or endless options?

Decorating a Christmas tree is like taking a walk down memory lane. The doves that intertwine remind you of your first Christmas, when you and your spouse could barely afford a tree. The handprint in the clay makes it hard for you to believe that your child was ever that small, and you can still remember the big grin on their face when they handed you the one they had made out of macaroni and a ton of glue in first grade.

If you are considering filing for divorce, it can also bring a few tears to your eyes. Will things ever be the same? Will your child be with you on Christmas Day next year? How do you handle the holidays under a custody arrangement or parenting plan?

In Ohio, the "best interests of the child standard" is used in all custody and visitation (or parenting time) decisions. Parents have two options for determining the holiday schedule after their divorce:

  1. Let the court decide.
  2. Reach a voluntary agreement.

You have little control over the outcome under the first option. Under the second option, however, the possibilities are endless. You can be creative and tailor a plan that truly fits the unique needs of you and your ex-spouse. While the court will still have to approve the agreement, this is rarely ever a problem when parents cooperate effectively.

What are the options for a holiday schedule? What are some of the most common arrangements? What are some creative ideas? Listed below are a few ways in which you and your ex-spouse could handle your holiday schedules.

  • Share each holiday: Many families decide to share each holiday. It is potentially the best way for families who don't want to forgo seeing their kids on any holiday. Maybe mom gets Christmas Eve and dad gets Christmas Day, or vice versa, to make things as easy as possible.
  • Trade each year: Taking Christmas every other year might not be ideal, but many families see it as the fairest way to still have a full holiday - especially if you want to travel to grandma and grandpa's or go on vacation. It can be a less stressful option each year.
  • Give each spouse certain holidays: Maybe Christmas holds a special place in your heart for religious reasons. Does your spouse feel the same way about this particular holiday? Some couples choose to assign each parent major holidays.
  • Have two holidays every year: Does Christmas always have to be on Dec. 25? You can decide to designate a separate weekend each year for a second holiday celebration. You can rotate each year which parent gets the real holiday if that is important. What kid doesn't like the idea of opening presents twice?
  • Variations, like creating new holidays: You can create variations of any plan. For instance, birthdays are not a traditional holiday, but why not make them one? You can designate your birthday and your ex-spouse's birthdays as holidays that each parent, respectively, spends with the kids. Children's birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day are other options. Set a plan for any religious holiday, state/federal holiday, school vacation days or any special occasion you see fit.

Couples that can work together to create a tailored plan are often much more satisfied living with that plan. You can make a plan that considers your priorities, accomplishes your goals, takes into account your children's individual schedules or each parent's work demands and much more.

Use your attorney as a resource. It is a good chance he or she has some creative ideas you might like. Your attorney knows what has worked for some couples and which terms clients have come back to modify. They can help you "cover your bases" and draft a complete arrangement.

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