One of my favorite holiday movies is Four Christmases (in addition to Home Alone, Elf, Christmas Vacation, Planes Trains + Automobiles… okay, call me basic). In the movie, a non-married couple played by Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn try to navigate attending four Christmases – one hosted by each of their divorced parents – when their plans to travel instead go awry. Classic.

Although these are adult children, and the theme of the movie is more of a romantic comedy than a divorce story, it gets me thinking about how children are impacted by sharing holidays with their parents and how parents are impacted by not always having their children with them at holidays. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a holiday schedule incorporated into a Custody and Parenting Time Agreement so that parents and children can plan ahead.

The holiday and school break schedule should consider the following, at minimum:

  1. What holiday is most important to each parent. For example, is Christmas Eve more important than Christmas Day to one and vice versa, or the first night of Rosh Hashanah over the second?
  2. If the same holidays are most important to both of you, then make sure you each have one in a given year. For example, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day should be with different parents in the same year and alternate on an odd/even schedule for the next year and so on, if those days are equally as important to both parents.
  3. What hours make sense to divide the day? If you are sharing Christmas Day, think about when historically you’d open presents or eat, and don’t make the transition time one that would remove your children at that time.
  4. Where are you doing the exchanges? You want to keep the holidays light for your children and less chaotic for each parent.
  5. Does one parent have more availability for the various school closures, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents Day, and other three-day weekends, vs. another parent who may always have to work on those days. While it may seem more ‘fair’ to demand to share those days if you are the unavailable parent, it may not be fair to the children who wouldn’t actually spend time with that parent if they are allocated the day.
  6. For the longer school breaks, like winter and spring, do you prefer to split them in half and each take time or each parent to have the full break in alternating years? Keep in mind reality – do you have a history or anticipation of travel, or is it about spending the time, or my and many parents’ reality – ensuring you have enough time during break to work?
  7. Halloween – do you trick or treat with your children or do they go with friends? Where would they prefer to trick or treat? Can you do it together or is it better to split the time and take it separately? And how much pressure (or candy) do you want to put on them for having two Halloweens in one afternoon after school?

Whether you take these suggestions or talk to people you know about what works, or any combination… the goal is to not have your children want to lie about traveling over the holidays instead of going to ‘Four Christmases’… but hey, sometimes we’d rather travel even when our families are not split!

So, whatever you choose, have a very happy holiday season! For some other tips, see my last holiday blog!


Lindsay A. Heller is a partner in the firm’s Family Law practice, based in its Morristown, NJ office. You can reach Lindsay at 973.548.3318 or

Lindsay A. Heller, Associate, Fox Rothschild LLP