One of the biggest adjustments that parents of children must make when they get divorced comes with the holiday season. There is a challenging reality a parent must face in not getting to spend every day of the holiday break with his or her children – assuming parents follow the standard guidelines laid out in Texas Family Code Section 153. Of course, it’s possible to craft an alternative to what is in most divorce decrees in Texas, but as with all things decree-related, it’s up to the individual set of parents to come together and craft an agreement they agree on, in the best interest of the children.
In the Texas Family Code, Thanksgiving and the winter holiday break (covering both Christmas and New Year’s Day) are covered as part of a larger section on holidays (153.314) that also cover Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and a child’s birthday.
In an even-numbered year (like 2018), one parent gets parenting time “beginning at 6 p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school for the Christmas school vacation and ending at noon on December 28,” and the other parent gets parenting time from noon on the 28th to the end of the winter break. The schedule then reverses for an odd-numbered year, with the parent who got the children upon school dismissal the year before getting them on December 28.
It’s important to note that the parent who starts parenting time on December 28 in a given year also gets them for Thanksgiving break. Per the schedule that San Antonio ISD and a number of other Texas school districts use, that can be quite a long period of parenting time for one parent. Whereas in the past, Thanksgiving was a four-day weekend, it’s now often a whole week, meaning that with school letting out for Thanksgiving break on the Friday before Thanksgiving, it’s a nine-day stretch of parenting time.
Complicating the question of what’s fair is complicated by the fact that using noon the 28th as the “halfway point” doesn’t actually create an even amount of parenting time in many years. Collin County Judge Emily Miskel has published an alternative solution on her website, as part of an intriguing rethinking of standard orders. It asks parents to look at the calendar, consider the day the children get out of school as the first day of winter break, and change possession on the middle day of the break – which, given a typical winter break spanning 17 days between leaving school and coming back to school, would be on the 9th day of the break, or the Saturday after the first of the two weeks away from school.
It’s important to remember that the holiday schedule, as everything else in the parenting plan, should center on the best interests of the children. That is the court’s priority, and must be the priority of the parents as well.