Navigating Holiday Child Visitation During a Marriage Separation

Child Custody - December 21, 2021
Collage of children greeting family members during the holidays

Most people don’t go into a marriage thinking they will later separate or divorce. But life happens; people change and sometimes they don’t change at all.

For many newly single parents, the holidays can be a painful reminder of the difficult emotions and circumstances surrounding the split. Sprinkle the chaos of the season into the mix and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. However, barring abuse, addiction and other safety concerns, most separated parents can amicably negotiate child visitation over the holidays.

How can separated parents without a formal visitation agreement split the holidays without fanning the flames of resentment? Read on for a few tips.

Get together in small doses.

For many children, the holidays are the most wonderful time of year. But for children of newly separated parents, the whole season can feel like a big lump of coal in their stockings. No matter how heated it gets between you and your ex, try to see things from your children’s perspective, who are grieving the dissolution of their family as they know it.

To help your kids retain some normalcy during this difficult transition, Allen S. Gabe, Principal of Allen Gabe Law, suggests small doses of togetherness with your ex and children, like an hour on Christmas morning to open gifts or an hour or two in the evening to celebrate Christmas dinner. Of course, this situation wouldn’t apply if your ex has addiction issues or is abusive in any way.

If you do get together with your ex and kids, the situation may feel tense at first. Try to keep the guest count small and avoid inviting any in-laws who put you on edge. To take the pressure off, consider inviting a neutral friend or doing a fun festive activity where conversation isn’t the main feature.

Negotiate a fair-but-flexible arrangement.

Like it or not, your ex will probably want to see their kids just as much as you do. To strike a fair, 50-50 visitation arrangement, both parents will need to compromise. According to YLAW, a family legal firm based in Vancouver Canada, ex-spouses typically split the holidays in a few ways:

  1. Splitting the holidays in half: One parent keeps the children from December 14 to noon on Christmas Day (for the first half of the Christmas holiday), and the other parent takes the kids from Christmas Day afternoon until the first day of school.
  2. Christmas & New Year’s only: Parents would follow their regular visitation schedule with a few exceptions for New Year’s Day and Christmas. You can have your ex pick up the children at 9 a.m. on Christmas Day and bring them back the next morning. That way, one ex gets Christmas Day and one gets Christmas Eve. The same would apply to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
  3. Rotating years: This option may work well for parents who don’t live in the same city, but it can also work for exes living close by, particularly ones that can’t stomach being together. In this situation, you would take your children for the entire Christmas holiday on even years, and your spouse would take the kids on odd years. The schedule would rotate every year.

If you can’t work out the details with your ex, consider having a lawyer draft up a formal visitation agreement. An experienced lawyer can help you work through any tense conversations while advocating for your rights.

Keep your emotions in check and resist the urge to badmouth.

If you find yourself feeling triggered in the presence of your kids and ex, take a breather. It’s better to take a 10-minute break and come back calm and centered than let the situation snowball in front of your children.

Call a friend or get some fresh air or do a quick mindfulness practice like the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. If you’re feeling on edge, simply notice five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can taste and one thing you can smell. You could also practice this mindfulness exercise with your children if they are feeling dysregulated.

Most importantly, resist the urge to badmouth your ex to your kids. Your children likely feel a strong sense of loyalty to both of their parents, so testing those bonds will only make your kids suffer. By responding calmly and kindly—no matter how upsetting the situation—you can help ease your children’s fears and show them how to handle difficult emotions.

If you can, communicate with your ex beforehand to discuss what to do if the situation gets heated. You could also enlist the support of a trusted friend who can lend an ear or help deescalate if needed.

How LegalShield can help.

Nothing fans the flames of resentment faster than fighting your ex for time with your kids. If you can’t find an amicable resolution on your own, consider hiring a lawyer experienced in family law. LegalShield plans allow you to consult with a lawyer on any legal matter, including establishing or renegotiating a custody and visitation agreement. LegalShield Personal Plans give you access to an entire network of experienced lawyers, so you can find your justice.


LegalShield provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to LegalShield Members through member-based participation. Neither LegalShield nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation or advice. See a plan contract for specific state of residence for complete terms, coverage, amounts, and conditions. This is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact a lawyer for legal advice or assistance. If you are a LegalShield member, you should contact your Provider Law Firm.