Child Custody: What is the Standard Holiday Visitation Schedule in California?

As a parent, you want every holiday to be a special memory for your child. But after you and your co-parent have separated or divorced, expectations, hard feelings, and demands by extended family can sometimes overshadow what’s best for your child. Here are some tips for creating a standard parenting time holiday schedule that will help your kids have a happy holiday. 

Who Gets the Kids for the Holidays?

California doesn’t have one standard parenting time holiday schedule that applies to most families. Instead, it allows parents to work together with their attorneys during a divorce or child custody action to create a parenting and custody arrangement that honors the needs and traditions of everyone in the family, including parents and children. 

If you have not yet gone to court, or if your divorce or child custody case is still pending, it may not be clear who gets the kids for the holidays. You may need to work with your co-parent and their attorney to reach a fair arrangement while you work on resolving the rest of your issues. 

However, once you and your former partner agree on a parenting plan, also called a Custody and Visitation Agreement, it can become a court order. Who gets the kids for the holidays will depend on the terms of that agreement. If holidays aren’t covered, holiday visitation will look like any other day of the week. That’s why most parenting plans contain special attachments that deal specifically with your family’s standard holiday visitation schedule.

Creating Your Children’s Holiday Schedule 

California family courts allow parents to set their family’s own schedules, if they can agree. That includes deciding which parent will spend each holiday with the children. The California courts even have a form, called the Children’s Holiday Schedule Attachment, which allows parents and their attorneys to set out exactly when and how long the children will spend with each parent. This form includes the children’s school breaks as well as the legal holiday itself. 

Of course, you can be flexible when circumstances change, or if you need to make adjustments to the schedule. You and your co-parent are allowed to trade days, give additional time, or even skip court-ordered holiday visitation, as long as both parents agree that it is best. If you can’t agree, though, you will need to go back to the court order and follow its holiday visitation schedule.

Standard Parenting Time Holiday Schedule Options

It can help to know where to start when negotiating a holiday visitation schedule. The Superior Court of California for Los Angeles County put together some guidance laying out parents’ options, which Bay Area courts have adopted and use to help parents plan how to handle their holidays:

Divided Holidays

For longer holidays, like Hanukkah or mid-winter break, parents might choose to split the holiday itself, or the holiday weekend. For example, Parent A may spend time with the children from Friday after school until Saturday evening, and Parent B from Saturday evening until Sunday evening. This can give the child a chance to celebrate with each parent.

Alternating Holidays

With single-day holidays, like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, parents often choose to alternate who has visitation with the child based on the year. For example, the children may be with Parent A for Holidays 1 and 3 in even-numbered years, and Parent B in odd-numbered years. During that same period, they will be with Parent B for Holidays 2 and 4 in even-numbered years, and Parent A in odd-numbered years. This allows the child to participate in both parents’ holiday events.

Holidays Dedicated to One Parent

Many parenting plans include Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the parents’ birthdays. In heterosexual families, mothers generally receive Mother’s Day every year, and fathers generally receive Father’s Day every year. This allows children to celebrate the day with the parent it relates to most closely. 

Other families will say that a specific day is always awarded to Parent A or Parent B because of known family activities. For example, if one parent’s family reunion always happens the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it may make sense for that parent to have that day every year.

Unchanging Schedules

Sometimes predictability is the most important thing for a child. If your child has special needs, you or your child were the victim of domestic violence, or your co-parent is unreliable or unable to take the children for extended periods of time, you may want the regular parenting schedule to continue year-round, including over the holidays. 

“Observed” Monday Holidays

Often, if a holiday lands on a weekend it will be observed by schools the following Monday. Your standard holiday visitation schedule can account for what happens on these “observed” holidays. For example, you could extend the parent’s weekend to cover the time off school.

What if the Standard Holiday Visitation Schedule Doesn’t Fit?

The Children’s Holiday Schedule lists specific holidays including Halloween, Thanksgiving Day, and July 4th. But what if your family celebrates different holidays? There is space on the form for “Other Holidays,” where parents can specify their own religious holidays, and who the children will spend holiday visitation with on those days. 

What if You Can’t Agree on Holiday Custody?

The California courts will honor a Custody and Visitation Agreement entered by the parties. But sometimes agreement is impossible, or inappropriate, because of your history with your ex-spouse. If parents can’t agree on the terms of a parenting plan, including holiday parenting time, they can ask the judge to resolve how time with their children will be divided. Each side will be allowed to present evidence about their religious observances, family history, and child’s school, home, and community life. Then, the judge will assign a custody and visitation order based on the best interests of the child.

At ADZ Law, LLP, our child custody attorneys want to help you and your children have a happy and memorable holiday season. We can help you craft a personalized holiday visitation plan that honors your family’s traditions, and makes space for new ones. When conflict is high, and you and your co-parent can’t agree on what’s best, we will advocate for your kids in court to make certain they are safe and protected during holiday celebrations and school breaks. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a consultation to learn more about our team, and how we can help your family have a happy holiday.