Handling Christmas Break When You Are Divorced

It is that time of year when kids finish school and winter break begins. Usually stress-free time, for kids in divorced families these can be stressful times, with parents arguing over which one should have certain holiday time with certain family members.

How can divorced parents make the holidays easier for everyone?

Parents should begin with a simple reality: Unless the parents want to share holiday time together, the parents will have to divide up the time from the end of school to the resumption of school. How a family divides up that time determines who will be in a celebratory mood.

Before entering the divorce agreement, parents should give serious thought to how they want to spend this holiday time. Think about the main criteria: are my family in town or out of town, and how much do I want to see them during the holidays? Do I want to take a vacation? Is the religious part important to me? Answering these questions will get you to your main priorities and help decide what type of division of time you would like.

There are so many options for making time for both co-parents to celebrate the holidays with their kids. Let go of perceived ‘holiday rules’ and know that whatever works for you and your kids is best. If one parent loves Christmas Eve and the other loves Christmas Day, there is no need to rotate. There is nothing wrong with one parent always having the children on December 24 and the other always having them on December 25, if that works for your family.

When I am mediating a divorce or working directly with a client to develop a Parenting Plan, I encourage parent(s) to consider creative, personalized plans that fit successfully into their holiday traditions. Below are five ideas for you to spend Christmas with your children as a stocking stuffer from me. I hope these ideas help you create wonderful Christmas festivities that provide your children with the best possible Christmas celebrations.

1. Traditional Odds and Evens

“Children with Father in odd-numbered years and Mother in even-numbered years” makes for a very simple and easy-to-remember agreement. To further clarify, the plan might state, “Christmas Eve Holiday is defined as December 23 at 4:00 pm to December 25 at 4:00 pm. Christmas Day Holiday is defined as from December 25 at 4:00 pm until December 27 at 4:00 pm”.


Each parent has time to create Christmas Eve and Christmas Day memories.

There is consistency and clarity in the schedule. Children know they will see both parents during the holiday and switch years with whom they spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

2. Shared Time for Opening Presents

“First Half of Winter Break Holiday is defined as 4:00 pm on the day school is released for Winter Break to December 28 at 4:00 pm. The second Half of Winter Break Holiday is defined as from December 28 at 4:00 pm until 4:00 pm on the day school resumes from Winter Break”. The parent who does not have the children on Christmas morning is invited to share in the present opening from 9:00 am until 11:00 am on Christmas Day.


Opening Christmas presents with both parents can be particularly special for children when parents can ensure a healthy, low-conflict environment. Both parents determine where to hold the present opening based on what will be best for their kids.

You Might Want to Consider:

If opening presents together on Christmas morning is not an option, consider scheduling another time when both parents can be together with their children on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Sharing an event with your former spouse for the benefit of your children will be appreciated by everyone. However, if you find spending time with your former spouse very difficult, don’t pressure yourself if you think there might be tension. The holidays should be a time of joy, and arguments between parents would be worse for your children than not seeing both parents over the holiday. What is important is to do what is best for you and your children. Everyone’s situation is unique, and many families find it best to keep holiday celebrations separate. Again, it is all about what works best for your family.

3. By Written Agreement Each Year

“Mother and Father shall confer on or before November 15, each year, and mutually agree in writing upon the details of the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day physical custody schedule. Parents shall share the 48-hour holiday time equally unless otherwise mutually agreed to in writing”.


This schedule works best for parents who cannot decide on the holiday scheduling details due to inconsistencies in their work schedules. Reasons might include a busy travel schedule or a job where a parent is not aware of their availability until a week or two before the holiday. Another reason is that the parents simply want the flexibility of deciding how holiday time will be spent each year instead of being locked into the odd-year/even-year schedule. Also, knowing time will be shared “equally” gives parents peace of mind.

You Might Want to Consider:

Include language of what to do if no agreement can be reached. For example, if you reached this Parenting Plan in mediation, include a sentence: “If the parents cannot reach a written agreement, they shall meet with their mediator to plan their holiday schedule. When a Plan is written to keep parent conflict low, this approach can work well.

4. Option to Travel

“The parents agree that in even-numbered years, Mother has the option to travel outside the St. Louis Metropolitan Area with the children for the Winter Break Holiday. Mother’s time in even-numbered years is defined as 4:00 pm on the day school is released for Winter Break through 4:00 pm on December 27. However, should Mother remain in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area, Father shall have physical custody time from 4:00 pm until 10:00 pm on Christmas Day. Mother shall notify Father each year no later than December 1 whether she will be traveling with the children or remaining in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. In Father’s year, every “odd-year”, Christmas Day physical custody time would be shared the same way, and he would have the same option to travel with the children.


The Option to Travel plan can be ideal when parents each want the opportunity to travel with the children over Winter Break, as each parent gets the entire holiday with the children in their designated year. This option is also flexible so that if the parent with the children does not travel, the children benefit from seeing both parents on Christmas Day.

5. Keep Pre-Divorce Family Traditions

“Mother shall have physical custody of the children for Christmas Eve evening every year to spend with Mother and Mother’s family. After Mother’s family gathering on Christmas Eve, the children shall spend the night with Mother in all odd-numbered years and with Father in all even-numbered years. Father shall have physical custody time with the children every [insert Thanksgiving or Easter] to balance out the physical custody time.”


Parents can maintain the holiday traditions they have had for years. To remain consistent can be beneficial for the children, their extended family, and for the parents. Keeping traditions alive can be beneficial for all involved. Usually, such a plan is negotiated in mediation and not through traditional litigation.

These five options are successful ways of sharing parenting time with children over the holidays, and there are many other creative options that may be best for your family. Your family is unique, the traditions you choose to celebrate are unique, and a unique and creative parenting plan can support the well-being of your family.

Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon or have questions about your divorce situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you.

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