For parents who have never been through family court, parenting time is the term Arizona family courts use refer to the time children spend with each parent pursuant to a child custody order. Usually these orders provide a regular schedule parents follow during the rest of the year and a holiday parenting time schedule to divide major holidays between both parents.
By default, most family court judges divide New Year’s, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Orders may also assign any three-day weekends for other holidays (like Labor Day or Memorial Day) to the parent who exercises regular parenting time during adjacent weekends.
Obviously this list is not comprehensive and there may be other holidays more significant to particular families. When child custody cases proceed to trial, each parent should submit a proposed parenting schedule, including holidays and vacations, with their pretrial statement pursuant to Rule 76.1(f)(9). As long as parents follow this rule, most judges will include all of the holidays the parents specify in their child custody orders.
Now we will talk about how the holidays usually are divided. While specific holiday schedules vary from case to case, the variations can be broadly categorized as one of three types of holiday parenting schedules.
Alternate holidays every year
The most common type of holiday parenting schedule divides all holidays into two groups, we will name Holiday Group 1 and Holiday Group 2, and assigns each Group to either parent in alternating years.
We will use the unofficial default holiday list above to illustrate how this works:
Holiday Group 1 might consist of New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving.
Holiday Group 2 then would consist of Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.
In odd years, Parent A might exercise parenting time during the Group 1 holidays while Parent B gets these holidays in even years.
Conversely, Parent B would get Group 2 holidays during odd years and Group 1 holidays during even years.
This is a purely hypothetical illustration of how alternate holiday division can work in child custody cases. Even though this is the most common method, especially among family law judges, specific holiday schedules still vary from case to case. The idea is to give parents equal holiday parenting time.
The same holidays every year
Sometimes parents have more certain holidays and family traditions that they want to observe every year. Maybe one parent prefers Christmas Eve to Christmas Day or the parents observe different cultural holidays.
In these child custody cases, parents may want specific holidays assigned to the same parent every year. Unfortunately, if the parents cannot privately agree, this schedule can be difficult to achieve at trial. Judges prefer to divide holidays as close to equally as possible. However, if one parent observes a holiday the other parent does not, such as a cultural new year or a different religious holiday, it may be possible to assign that specific holiday to the observing parent each year while using an alternate schedule for the other mutually observed holidays.
Split holiday parenting time with both parents
The final archetype of holiday parenting schedules divides each holiday between both parents every year. For example, maybe Parent A exercises parenting time 4-6 p.m. on Halloween before Parent B has the children from 6-8 p.m.
This method is by far the least common because it requires parents to maintain an exceptional coparenting relationship and coparenting during the holidays can be very difficult. Split schedules often lead to conflict, especially if one parent is late to the parenting exchange because each parent’s time is so limited. More commonly, this type of schedule is used only for the children’s birthdays to ensure that both parents are able to see the children on their birthday every year.