Holidays and Co-Parenting Before, During and After Divorce

Whether you’re in a blended, separated, recently divorced, or single-parent family, it’s never too early to plan for the holidays. Our team at FORESTER PURCELL STOWELL PC shares brief thoughts on navigating the holiday season.



Navigating the holidays can be a challenge for separating families not only for the changes in custody, but also because of potential changed financial circumstances. It is important for families to consider their budgets throughout the year, but to also avoid compensating for the separation by trying to “out do” the other parent, or buy the whole toy store to make your child feel like everything is normal during the holidays. Instead, take a moment to appreciate the time you have with your family; encourage your child to have a great holiday with the other parent; and build new traditions that work into your new circumstances. Your child will remember the happiness they felt and the stress-free feeling of the holidays, not which parent had more boxes under the tree.



Holiday plans, as with all parenting plans, should be focused on the children and not on the parents.  There is often conflict between the family traditions of each parent.  I have had many cases where the parties just wanted to fight to preserve their family traditions, regardless of the age or impact the conflict had on the children.  I constantly try to remind these clients that children do not care about what specific day their holiday celebrations occur.  In fact, most children would prefer to have more holidays to celebrate.  Two Christmas’?  Yes, please!  If a holiday plan can’t accommodate all of the traditions of both parents, start new traditions.  Move old traditions to different times that fit within the parenting plan.  It isn’t the specific time or even the tradition that matters.  The children only want to have quality time to celebrate the holidays with both of their parents.



Navigating the holidays in the midst of divorce proceedings or a custody dispute can be incredibly stressful, not only for the parents but also for their children. It is important to think ahead and develop a holiday schedule well in advance, so that neither parent ends up in court during the holiday season. Holiday visitation schedules vary, but a typical holiday schedule would be one parent has certain holidays in even years and the other parent has odd years. Some parents choose to split the holidays in half, for example, one parent would have Easter 9am- 1pm and the other parent would take the 1pm-5pm timeslot.  I encourage clients to try and put aside their differences during that time of year and to be flexible and accommodating for the benefit of the children. Whether that means offering to pick them up a little later so they can spend more time with their cousins, or compromising on an exchange location that results in less travel time. The holidays are about spending time with family and loved ones, and the more children see their parents compromising, communicating, and working together to make the holidays memorable, the more it sets the tone for holidays in the years to come.



For those going through a divorce, the end of the calendar year is important for any number of reasons – not just for holiday planning for parenting purposes, though. Tax planning should be added to the list of things to consider. Talk to your accountant about filing status (married filing jointly vs. married filing separately vs. single/head of household). If you have not yet gotten the divorce finalized and your spouse is not interested in filing jointly, you have the option of having the court dissolve the status of the marriage pending the resolution of all other issues (property, support, etc.). This is called a “bifurcation of marital status.” The IRS will look to your marital status on the last calendar day of the year to determine your possible filing status, so if your accountant believes that something other than “married filing separately” is better for you, then consider bifurcating the marital status now to take advantage come tax time.

Thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 2019 saw dramatic changes to the Internal Revenue Code regarding spousal support, among other things. As of January 1, spousal support was no longer be includable as income to the spouse receiving it or deductible to the spouse paying it, unless a valid order for deductible/includable support had already been issued in your case prior to that date. This is a fluid issue, and practitioners are monitoring how this change will affect future support recipients and payors. Definitely something to check in on with your accountant prior to the end of the year.



Holidays are stressful in the best of times.  Throw a divorce into the mix and the stress level multiplies exponentially.  To help lessen the stress, be very clear in your custody agreement about both the exact time and location of the holiday custody exchange.  Saying that a custody exchange will occur “On the Christmas Eve” leaves a lot to be misinterpreted.  Better to say “On Christmas Eve, the custody exchange will occur at 7 pm at Mom’s house.”  If you and your ex are getting along, you absolutely can adjust this arrangement to a schedule that better fits your needs.  If you are not getting along, however, the court order is clear, so no game playing/ruined holiday plans can occur.  It is an oldie but a goodie – better safe than sorry.



One important thing to remember is that your kids care less (if at all) about the date you celebrate a holiday than the time they spend celebrating it with you. The fact that your kids are with Dad on Christmas Eve and you on Christmas Day, for example, won’t be what they remember. They’ll remember the family time, the traditions, and the love, no matter the date. So, while it might be difficult for you if you aren’t celebrating Christmas on December 25, you can make Christmas just as special for your kids on the 24th or 26th.


FORESTER PURCELL STOWELL PC  is a Northern California law firm focused exclusively on specialized counsel for complex divorce and family law issues. The firm’s founders are recognized by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization as Certified Family Law Specialists and regularly represent business owners, professionals, and other high net worth individuals (or their spouses) in divorce, premarital agreements, and related actions. The legal team can be reached at or 916 293 4000. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @law_fps 



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