Holidays after divorce

The Texas Family Code has very specific instructions about divorced parents and holidays. Although parents can have other arrangements if approved by the court, this is the standard approach to handling post-divorce holidays in Texas. It is characterized by every-other-year "possession" (the Texas term for visitation) during school vacations and major holidays.

Standard Holiday Possession

The Family Code spells out the following schedule:

  • Christmas: The possessory conservator (the parent without custody) has possession of the child from 6 p.m. of the last day before the school Christmas break until 6 p.m. on Dec. 26. Then the other parent, the managing conservator, has possession of the child from 6 p.m. on Dec. 26 to 6 p.m. on the day before school starts. Each parent follows this schedule every other year.
  • Thanksgiving: The possessory conservator has possession of the child from 6 p.m. on the day that school breaks for the holiday until 6 p.m. on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Each parent follows this schedule every other year. Which parent has the child for Thanksgiving usually determines the time period during the Christmas school vacation; the parent who has possession of the child for Thanksgiving has the child for the last half of the Christmas break.
  • Father's and Mother's Day: The father has possession on the weekend of Father's Day, the Mother on the weekend of Mother's Day.
  • Child's birthday: The parent not ordinarily scheduled for that day would have the child from 6 to 8 p.m. on the child's birthday.
  • Other holidays: Parents usually have possession every other year on Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day.

The Texas Family Code allows for extension of child possession when a holiday falls on the Friday before or the Monday after a regularly scheduled weekend. It also is specific about the arrangements for Christmas and Thanksgiving when parents live more than 100 miles from the child's primary residence.

The law presumes that the standard holiday arrangements are in the best interests of the child unless parents agree on other arrangements that the court approves.

You Have the Children for a Holiday. How Do You Get Through It?

Agreeing to standard or nonstandard dates and times is only the beginning. The parent with possession of the child must also identify the best ways to celebrate these holidays. Some suggestions include:

  • Develop new traditions. If you always did things one way before the divorce, try something different. Enlist the children in developing their own new holiday traditions and they will have something to look forward to every time they are with you for that celebration.
  • Don't be tempted to give too many presents or presents that are very expensive. It's not a competition. Instead, figure out some fun activities that children will remember long after the expensive toy is broken.
  • If you don't have your children with you during a holiday, reach out to others. Host a divorced parents Thanksgiving dinner. Go to a movie. Volunteer at a shelter or food bank. Stay busy.
  • Don't do everything twice. Don't have two huge Thanksgiving meals. Some parents spread out the Christmas present opening over two weeks, opening one every day.
  • Reduce stress by lowering your expectations. No family is perfect except on television. Not everything is always going to be wonderful, no matter how hard you try. If you feel stressed because you want to create the perfect holiday for your children, they will know it. It's better to be more relaxed and have fun with your kids, accepting that there may be a few rough edges around the holiday celebration.
  • Communicate with the other parent about gift giving. This avoids duplication and can help eliminate parental competition for the best gift. Some parents even give gifts that are from both of them.
  • Make sure the other parent knows about performances, holiday pageants, school trips and other holiday events that they might like to be part of.
  • Don't give your children a pet as a gift without checking with the other parent. If it is going to be your pet, that's fine, but if the pet will follow the child between parental homes, it may not be such a great idea.

The bottom line for holiday celebrations is to stay relaxed and focus on the children. Remember, it's not about you; it's about them.