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It’s that time again! Many families are gearing up for gift-giving, turkey cutting and coordinating their family photos. But some families are trying to figure out which parent gets what time with their children.

Disputes over visitation are very common around the holidays. When parents no longer share a household, it becomes difficult to figure out where the children are going to spend their holiday time.

What happens when the parents cannot agree on where the children are going to go for the holidays?

Unfortunately, visitation related hearings often occur around holiday times. If you feel a dispute brewing with your child’s father or mother, you need to know what to do. You should also know what is likely to happen if you do need to fight about it. You should also weigh whether or not you need to retain an attorney.

Maryland courts have some guidelines for resolving these disputes over child visitation. Sometimes the local judge or magistrate will fall back on a standard way of resolving a holiday related visitation dispute.

A local family law attorney can give you insight on what is likely to happen if you file for a hearing. That can be one very good reason for getting a legal consultation before you file any paperwork. If you know what is likely to happen anyway, you and your ex may be able to agree to resolve the case on that basis.

Here are some things the Maryland Courts consider in visitation disputes:

  • What kind of visitation schedule do the children have with each parent now? In trying to decide which parent gets which holiday, the court takes into account how often each parent spends time with the children the rest of the year.
  • What are the family traditions for each parent that the kids should participate in? The court may want to keep certain family traditions in place for the kids. (Note: it will be for the benefit of the kids – not necessarily for your benefit.)
  • If there was previously no Court Order deciding holiday visitation, then whoever had last Thanksgiving or Christmas may miss this year’s holiday. The court will usually try to even it out. 
  • Where is the extended family? If either parent travels regularly to spend time with family, or if there are family members coming into town, that is a consideration for alternating the holidays.
  • How far is the travel? The distance between the parents is another factor that plays into the decision.
  • When do the families usually have their “big” get together? The court will have options to alternate by year (i.e. Mom gets Thanksgiving with the children in odd years and Dad gets Thanksgiving with the children in even years) or the holiday can be divided on the actual day (i.e. Mom gets the morning and Dad gets the afternoon). 

Generally, If the parents live close and are willing to both split the day then there is no problem. That is easy and the kids get each parent on the holiday. It keeps everyone as happy as possible.

But that assumes the two parents get along. If the parents do not get along at all, alternating years may be the answer in order to limit the number of exchanges

For Thanksgiving many children are out of school early Wednesday until the next Monday, which means there is more than just Thanksgiving Day to consider. If both parents are willing, they could divide that extra time, but if travel is imminent, one parent may keep the children for the whole break and alternate to the other parent next year.

With Christmas Break it can be more interesting. Most children have off a few days before Christmas Day until after the New Year. The normal split is often Christmas Eve/Christmas morning. But again, if one parent is traveling the other may be forced to miss out.

Often the Court tries to evenly divide the time and gives each parent either Christmas Day, or more time after, and then alternates by odd and even years. Some parents would rather split Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day so that each parent sees the children on Christmas Day. But that requires communication and the ability to work together. This also depends on when and how each parent celebrates their Christmas Holiday.

Who should decide? Better you than a Judge!

No Judge wants to make choices for how children are going to spend their holiday time. And they certainly do not want an emergency hearing on the eve of a holiday. They would rather have the parents who love their kids, and personally know their own situation, make those major decisions.

But parents are not always able to make the choice. While the Judge will try to do what is best for the child, they will always be imposing their view of what is the best way to handle the holiday. It won’t necessarily match up with your view!

Conclusion & Next Steps

Before this holiday season, work together to come up with a schedule that works for you, works for your children, and works for the other parent. No one wants to be at the court house right before a holiday. Work out the details sooner rather than later so there are no misunderstandings.

More likely than not, the children want to see both parents and spend time with everyone. Quality time with both parents is a great gift for your children.

Want to know more? Discover what you need to know about divorce in Maryland. Click here to see our Free Legal Consumer Guide to divorce cases in Maryland and get answers to your questions today. Click here to read our Free Legal Consumer Guide to Child Custody.

Know your options. Be informed. Protect yourself.


Need a divorce lawyer or child custody attorney? Please contact us for a consultation today if you need a Maryland divorce lawyer for your family law case.

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