Parenting During the Holidays after Divorce
Arranging parenting time during the holidays can often be even more stressful than during “normal” times. While the holidays can be difficult for parents to navigate, it is important not to lose sight of how difficult the holidays can be for children, particularly when the parents’ separation/divorce is relatively new. In order to make holiday parenting time as easy as possible for everyone involved, it is important to make a plan and set expectations early. This plan should be shared with children as soon as possible so they are able to prepare and plan.
However, making a plan might not be as easy as it sounds, and it can be hard to know where to begin. In Indiana, the place to start is almost always the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines provide guidance on several holidays throughout the year; if a holiday is not listed in the Guidelines, that day should be treated like “normal” time. It is also important to remember that holiday parenting time trumps regular parenting time, with the practical effect that one parent might get three weekends in a row that year. For example, if it is Dad’s year for Thanksgiving and it is his “normal” weekend the weekend before Thanksgiving, he will also have the children the weekend after Thanksgiving, thus giving him three weekends in a row. Because the Guidelines operate on a two-year cycle, these “extra” weekends will even out the next year.
Finally, the Guidelines treat a child’s entire winter break as holiday time and divide that time equally between parents, with special provisions affecting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The number of days a parent gets for parenting time during winter break depends on the total number of days the children are out of school for vacation. Under the Guidelines, the parents rotate each year who gets the first half of the break and who gets the second half of the break, with each parent receiving the same number of overnights. If you are strictly operating under the Guidelines, the break begins at 6:00 p.m. on the last day of school and ends at 6:00 p.m. the day before school starts.
Although the Guidelines are a great starting point, each family is different and each parent needs to be flexible, especially during the holidays, in order to ensure that the children are affected as minimally as possible. The best way to achieve this is for both parents to read and familiarize themselves with the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines well before the holidays and consult with an attorney should anything be unclear.
 If your divorce decree or marital settlement agreement provides something different than the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, you should follow what is provided in the decree/settlement and only use the Guidelines for things not addressed in the decree/settlement.