Who gets the kids for the holidays?

Author: Calgary Family Lawyer Amanda Marsden

Deciding on a Holiday parenting schedule can be very difficult. The Holiday season can be especially difficult to navigate for newly divorced or separated couples. In a family law case, it is important to determine what your Holiday schedule is going to be long in advance of the December hustle and bustle. If you don’t know where your children are going to spend Christmas this year, now is the time to make those arrangements. 

It is important to make sure the Children’s needs come first, but other than that, there is no standard schedule. Under the Family Law Act only the best interests of the children are considered in determining a Christmas or Holiday schedule and this includes:

Best interests of the child
18(1)  In all proceedings under this Part except proceedings under section 20, the court shall take into consideration only the best interests of the child.
(2)  In determining what is in the best interests of a child, the court shall
                           (a) ensure the greatest possible protection of the child’s physical, psychological and emotional safety, and
                           (b) consider all the child’s needs and circumstances, including
                                  (i) the child’s physical, psychological and emotional needs, including the child’s need for stability, taking into consideration the child’s age and stage of development,
                               (ii) the history of care for the child,
                               (iii) the child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual upbringing and heritage,
                               (iv) the child’s views and preferences, to the extent that it is appropriate to ascertain them,
                               (v) any plans proposed for the child’s care and upbringing,
                               (vi) any family violence, including its impact on
                                      (A) the safety of the child and other family and household members,
                                      (B) the child’s general wellbeing,
                                      (C) the ability of the person who engaged in the family violence to care for and meet the needs of the child, and
                                      (D) the appropriateness of making an order that would require the guardians to cooperate on issues affecting the child,
                              (vii) the nature, strength and stability of the relationship
                                      (A) between the child and each person residing in the child’s household and any other significant person in the child’s life, and
                                      (B) between the child and each person in respect of whom an order under this Part would apply,
                             (viii) the ability and willingness of each person in respect of whom an order under this Part would apply
                                      (A) to care for and meet the needs of the child, and
                                      (B) to communicate and cooperate on issues affecting the child,
                               (ix) taking into consideration the views of the child’s current guardians, the benefit to the child of developing and maintaining meaningful relationships with each guardian or proposed guardian,
                                (x) the ability and willingness of each guardian or proposed guardian to exercise the powers, responsibilities and entitlements of guardianship, and
                               (xi) any civil or criminal proceedings that are relevant to the safety or wellbeing of the child.

What works well for one family after divorce, may not make sense for another. Coming to an agreement with your former spouse is the best way to ensure that your child’s holiday will be as enjoyable as possible.

In a family law case, when deciding what holiday schedule will work for your family, you should consider the following:

  • What is the children’s schedule, how many days do they have off school, do they have any activities that they need to attend during their break;
  • What is the parent’s schedule, how many days do each of the parents have off of work, and when are they available for parenting time; and
  • What are the traditions of each of the families, including what traditions are important to the children.

Ideally each of these considerations should be discussed with your former partner. It is unlikely that the children will be able to attend all of the family dinners or activities that each parent has available to them (nor is it likely that they would want to). However, open communication regarding expectations and scheduling of Holidays is often more productive if started far in advance of the actual timeframe in question. The last thing you want is to end up in family court prior to the Holidays.

Some families find that one parent having Christmas Day/Christmas Eve for parenting time and then alternating yearly works best for their family. Other families prefer to split parenting on Christmas Day into morning and evening, and then alternate that schedule yearly. However, there is no standard parenting schedule according to the law, and if these issues are brought before the Court the best interest of the children will be examined by a judge.

If you need assistance creating a holiday parenting schedule, the Calgary family lawyers at Crossroads Law are here to help. Holiday scheduling can be stressful for all families, and having a professional to assist in planning can be beneficial. Contact us early to ensure you have a schedule in place before the holiday season is underway.