Divorced Fathers: Birthdays and Holidays

Learn some tips for celebrating birthdays and holidays with your children after a divorce.

There’s no doubt that a divorce with children can be emotional and challenging, especially when you learn that you won’t be spending every day with your kids. Most noncustodial parents must adhere to a schedule of visitation with their children. Regardless of your feelings on the situation, you’ll need to follow the schedule, especially on birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. The following article contains information on how to create the best parenting schedule for your family and tips for dealing with the most common issues that plague noncustodial parents.

Clear Definition Is Key

Many custody and visitation disputes arise when the parenting schedule isn’t clearly defined. If you and your child's other parent are separated, but there’s no current court order for custody or visitation, take the time to spell out each parent’s expectations and obligations. You'll also need to identify the days and times your children will spend with each parent. Put all the details into a written document and follow it to the letter. If something comes up, and you need to change the schedule, communicate with your ex in advance, so you can work out an alternative arrangement.

If you’re filing for divorce, or just dealing with custody, you can ask the court for temporary custody orders while you're waiting for the final judgment.

Create Your Ideal Schedule

Custody cases don’t have to be contentious. Parents who work together to create an ideal visitation schedule often spend less time in court. You should consider each parent’s work and social schedules as well as your children’s schedule. Remember to account for weekends, mid-week visitation, school breaks, holidays, and birthdays. Otherwise, you’ll be heading back to court for clarity later. Once you present your arrangement to the court, the judge will sign it as it as long as it's in your child's best interests.

After you and your ex agree to a custody schedule, or a judge issues one for you, make sure you understand the terms and revisit the order often. If you have questions about transportation or what time the children need to go home, for example, your court order should be your first resource.

Handling Birthdays and Holidays After Divorce

Parents often feel sad that they can’t spend every holiday and birthday with their children. Some couples choose to spend special occasions together, as a family, even after divorce. Regardless of your reason for breaking up, most parents agree to put the children first, which means setting aside your emotions on special occasions. If you and your ex can’t seem to get along, here are some tips for handling birthdays and holidays after your divorce or breakup.

Review your schedule frequently and change it if necessary

Divorce and custody cases can take a toll, and no court expects both parents to memorize the parenting time and custody agreement, which is why you have a copy of the court order. It’s critical to spend some time reviewing the order, especially before important events, like a child’s birthday. Over time, the schedule will become like second nature, but in the beginning, you can avoid a lot of headaches if you have a copy of the order and review it frequently.

Although a court order is binding, that doesn’t mean you can’t modify it later. As children grow, their needs change. If the current arrangements for birthdays and/or holidays isn’t working for your children anymore, you should talk to your ex, to see what changes you can agree on. If you and your ex can't resolve the issue on your own, you can ask a court to change your custody and visitation plan.

Be flexible with each other

One of the best things you can do for your children during holidays and birthdays is to remain flexible with the other parent. When both parents are attentive and open-minded, conflict tends to dissipate before the children see it. For example, if the noncustodial parent is supposed to pick up the children on Christmas Eve, but the custodial parent’s family is hosting an annual holiday party, it may be best for the children if you can work together to arrange a better pick-up time and make up for any lost time at the end of the holiday.

Be sure not to schedule events during the other parent’s visitation intentionally. Although it’s wonderful to remain flexible, the court doesn’t look highly on any parent purposely planning events to interfere with the other’s time.

Consider asking your children what they want

As your children grow, and especially during the teenage years, they’ll probably express an opinion on where they want to go for birthdays and holidays. Consider adjusting the schedule for them. For example, if you’re a noncustodial parent and the children are supposed to spend the first half of summer vacation with you, but your ex's family scheduled a reunion with cousins, aunts, uncles, and distant relatives, you might want to consider letting your children go to the family celebration. You and your ex can arrange make-up parenting time for a later date. By putting your children first, you'll allow them to visit with family and enjoy the reunion.

Consider making new traditions

Children from divorced families see a lot of disruption in their lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way during holidays and birthdays. Consider having two holidays, one at each home. Children will feel special at both homes, and it’s often the best solution to ensure the children get to see extended family during the holidays and birthdays.

Many families also agree to split special occasions. For example, one parent can spend the morning and early afternoon celebrating the child's birthday and then have the other parent celebrate with the child in the afternoon and evening, so that the child can see both parents for this special day. If the parents live close enough to one another and can cooperate, then they may be able to set up a similar arrangement for other holidays.

Stay civil

It’s easy to forget that children love both parents, and even though you may not get along with your ex, your kids should never know it. It’s your job to facilitate a meaningful relationship between your children and their other parent. Be respectful and don’t speak poorly about the other parent in front of the children. Holidays and birthdays are a special and exciting time for children, so don’t spend your time arguing during pick-up or drop-off, as this can create confusion and sadness for your children.

If you’re having a difficult time working with your spouse, or you need help enforcing your birthday and holiday visitation, consider contacting an attorney to assist you.

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