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The holiday season is supposed to be a happy, peaceful time to spend with friends and family. But for many families, it can be one of the most stressful times of the year.

When you are separated, the pressures of making sure your children see grandma, grandpa, cousins, aunts and uncles – and have the opportunity to rush down the stairs to find all those gifts under the tree on Christmas morning – can seem insurmountable. These pressures can sometimes lead to a distressed call to your family law lawyer seeking emergency action. For those in a separated family, the reality is that if you haven’t already addressed your Christmas plans with your ex, that last-minute call to your lawyer is not going to fix things.

Plan in advance

Parents in separated families need to plan for the holidays well in advance. The courts will not, in most cases, deal with Christmas scheduling matters on an urgent or short-notice basis.

Children can tell when their parents are anxious or stressed; this in turn makes them stressed and worried. Avoid this by doing what you can to address the holiday sharing early in the year with, if possible, a written agreement between you and your ex about how to share the holidays. Start negotiating holiday sharing early, and if you can’t do that because you have an uncooperative spouse, ask the court for an ordered schedule.

Holiday sharing schedule

A holiday schedule will depend on the family and what traditional plans have looked like in the past. For example, do you and your ex live in the same neighbourhood and have family in town? In those cases, it may be easier to create a schedule where one parent has the kids Christmas Eve overnight to Christmas morning and the other parent has them from late morning, early afternoon on Christmas Day to Boxing Day, and then rotate those annually. This is a very common schedule.

If you are one of those families where grandma, grandpa and all the cousins live in another city, you may have to consider a schedule whereby you have the kids for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day one year, and your ex has them those days the following year.

Of course, sometimes Christmas is more important to one parent than the other, or one parent simply does not celebrate the holiday. In those cases, what we often see is a compromise where the parent who traditionally celebrates the holiday will have the “Christmas days” every year, but the other parent will have another holiday or other time in the year carved out specifically for him or her and the children.

Remember, there are now two households to consider. Whatever you did as a family before you were separated may not necessarily continue after a separation. Even if you were the one to get all the gifts, dress up like an elf on Christmas morning and make all the family plans, you will not always end up with the kids on Christmas morning post-separation.


Your holiday sharing schedule has to work for both households and, most importantly, your children. When there are two households involved, you just won’t be able to do it all every year. Deal with this early on so that you and your kids can make the most of the time that you do have, to ensure that everyone has memories of egg nog, candy canes and stockings, rather than affidavits, judges and a hefty legal bill.

For more information on holiday sharing schedules, contact our Family Law Group.


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This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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