Children and Holidays After Divorce: The “Exclusive” Option

The “exclusive” option is the complete opposite of the “equal and rotational” option discussed in my previous blog. The “equal and rotational” option allows the children to take turns spending a particular holiday with each parent. Therefore, a parenting plan might provide:

Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving shall be shared equally and rotationally, from Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. until Friday at 5:00 p.m., at which time the normal parenting schedule shall resume. The children shall be with the Father in even years, and with the Mother in odd years.

With the “exclusive” option, the children spend a particular holiday with the same parent every year, but never with the other parent. Therefore, an “exclusive’ provision might state:

Thanksgiving: The children shall be with the Father every Thanksgiving, from Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. until Friday at 5:00 p.m., at which time the normal parenting schedule shall resume.”

Although the “exclusive” option favors one parent over the other, there are several situations to which the “exclusive” option is well-suited.

In my previous blog, I noted that one of the biggest drawbacks to the “equal and rotational” holiday schedule is that it can minimize important family traditions. In my example, the family had always celebrated Thanksgiving with the Father’s family of origin (parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.), but never with  the Mother’s family, who did not do anything special on this holiday. With an “equal and rotational” schedule, every other year the children would miss the Father’s traditional extended family celebration, and spend an uneventful day with the Mother, who did not particularly care about Thanksgiving. I concluded: “ In such a situation, one of the other options would be more appropriate,” most notably, the exclusive option, which preserves an important family tradition even after the divorce is final and the parents are living apart.

Other situations to which the “exclusive” option is well-suited include those special days that only one parent would ordinarily celebrate, such as Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, or each parent’s birthday. Using the “exclusive” option in these situations demonstrates to both the children and that other parent that you recognize and respect the other parent’s special day, without anger or resentment.  Furthermore, the “exclusive” option allows the children to spend special one-on-one time with the other parent, especially when the special day falls on a day that the children would otherwise be scheduled to be with you.

The “exclusive” approach is also appropriate when one parent celebrates a unique holiday or cultural ritual that the other parent does not normally recognize, such as Norwegian Independence Day or St. Patrick’s Day, or in situations where one parent celebrates  certain religious holidays that the other parent does not, such as when one parent is Christian and one is Jewish.

The “exclusive” option can be helpful in situations where one of the parents has to travel in order to spend a holiday with his/her family of origin. For example, if the Father’s family is a four-hour drive away, spending a holiday with his family would involve a lot of travel time. Not only does this travel significantly reduce the time that the Father and children can spend with the Father’s family, but it also can be very tiring and stressful for both the Father and the children. Therefore, “exclusively” assigning an extended holiday period (such as Good Friday through Easter) to the Father would allow the Father and the children to fully enjoy time with the Father’s family of origin at least once every year. Therefore, the parenting plan might provide:

Good Friday/Easter:  The children shall be with the Father every Good Friday and Easter, from after school Thursday (or 3:00 p.m. if there is no school), until 8:00 p.m. Easter Sunday, at which time the normal parenting schedule shall resume.

Although it would be ideal if parents could focus solely on the desirability of having the children spend a particular day “exclusively” with the other parent, many parents are sensitive to “missing out” on time with the children. Therefore, in order to  balance the special times that the children spend with each parent, “exclusive” options often involve more than one holiday, so that each parent is assigned a separate “exclusive” holiday. This approach works particularly well with comparable holidays such as Memorial Day/Labor Day, Winter/Spring school vacations, and Mother’s Day/Father’s Day. However, even though the parents are “balancing” the time the children spend with each parent, the parents should still be guided by family traditions and the children’s best interests.

For example, if the Father coaches Little League and always marches with the children’s team in the Memorial Day parade, and the Mother’s family always hosts a Labor Day picnic, the “exclusive” arrangement probably is the most effective way to allocate these holidays while preserving family traditions. The parent’s agreement might therefore provide:

Memorial Day/Labor Day:  The children shall spend every Memorial Day with the Father, and every Labor Day with the Mother, from 6:00 p.m. Sunday to 6:00 p.m. Monday, at which time the normal parenting schedule shall resume

The “exclusive” option for celebrating a holiday after a divorce allows the parents to recognize and honor each parent’s unique family traditions, whereas the “equal and rotational” approach treats all holidays as if they were of equal importance to each parent. Furthermore, the “exclusive” approach rarely triggers the guilt that children often experience with the “equal and rotational” schedule, not only because the children recognize that each “exclusive” holiday is more important/personal to one parent than to the other, but also because the children often will spend a different “exclusive” holiday with the other parent sometime during the year. One family with whom I worked provided that the children would spend every Super Bowl Sunday with the Father (the Mother didn’t enjoy watching sports), and would spend a day every December going to dinner and a presentation of The Nutcracker with the Mother (the Father didn’t enjoy watching stage presentations). This way, the children could continue to enjoy important family traditions without worrying that the other parent would feel “left out.”

Neither the “equal and rotational” option nor the “exclusive” option may be appropriate or preferable for all families or for all situations. Fortunately, there are other options that might meet the family’s needs, such as the “Split” holiday option for divorced parents.

If you have any questions or comments about this article or my mediation practice, or if you have any issues that you would like me to address in a future blog post, please do not hesitate to contact me at: (860) 674-1788 or