What To Do When You Can’t Agree On a Holiday Schedule

Holidays can be stressful on their own, adding conflicting schedules and an unreasonable co-parent can make them event more difficult. However, using the strategies in this article can help you go into conversations with a clear plan of action.
Sad little girl leaning on the desk and listening to parents arguing and yelling. It's not healthy for child to listen to quarrel.

The holiday season is upon us and schedules are filling up with parties, events, and obligations with friends and family. It is a time of reflection and celebration as we give thanks while spreading holiday cheer. With so many exciting plans on the horizon, it can be tough to reach an agreement with your co-parent regarding the holiday schedule for your children. Afterall, you and your co-parent likely have ideas for what would make a perfect holiday and those plans could conflict.


Let’s get it out of the way, splitting holidays is tough. In prior years, you likely came together as a family to celebrate the season. Now that you are getting a divorce, you and your co-parent are required to split time with your children. It can seem impossible to come up with an agreement that is fair. As the holidays approach, there are a few things you can do to try to avoid a stalemate in scheduling negotiations. Nonetheless, even the best laid plans can go awry. If you cannot reach an agreement with your co-parent, we have some tips for you as well.



Before you discuss the holiday schedule with your co-parent, reflect on your feelings regarding the various holidays. What is important to you? Start the process by making a list of the important holidays and dates throughout the year. Try ranking them in order of importance as a jumping off point. Perhaps it is really important for you to spend Christmas Day with your children, but you don’t care much for Thanksgiving. Maybe you love spending Halloween with your children and Christmas has never really been your thing. Now that they are stack ranked, allocate 1,000 points between the various events based on importance. This will allow you to go into conversations knowing exactly what is most and least important to you. This is the best place to start your holiday schedule negotiations. Don’t get caught up trying to “win” against your co-parent. This is not a competition and you should not treat it that way. You won’t get everything you want, but that is okay. However, if you spend time on the front end preparing for the conversation, you can secure more of the things that are important to you.


During the reflection phase, you may find it helpful to work with a Divorce Coach. Divorce coaches have a wealth of experience working through a variety of issues you may face as a co-parent. They can help you build your list of holidays and understand what time with your children is most valuable to you. During this process, anticipate what you think will be important to your co-parent. If you know a certain holiday is very important to your co-parent, but not that important to you, think about how you could suggest something that would fit both of your desires. Also, be cognizant of when the holiday falls. If Christmas is on a Wednesday, could you suggest you get the kids for the weekend to celebrate the holiday? Not only will you be able to have a Christmas celebration with them, but you could also have a fun outing which would not be possible if you had them on Christmas Day.



Now that you have reflected on what is most important to you, it is time to have that conversation with your co-parent. If it is safe and legal to do so, reach out to your co-parent and ask them for time to discuss your childrens’ holiday schedules. Let them know that you would like to reach a fair agreement regarding how the children will spend the various holidays throughout the year. Set a time and date and stick to it so you can solidify a plan.


Before the call, review the seven common mistakes to avoid when co-parenting. This will help you avoid pitfalls when working with your co-parent. Additionally, go into the call knowing what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable. Remember, you will have to compromise, but it is okay if you have a non-negotiable item. Maybe it is non-negotiable that you see your children on Christmas Day. That is fine, but that might be a non-negotiable of your co-parent as well. Technically, you could both see the children on Christmas Day, but that would require splitting the day. Be prepared to compromise and bargain. You already know what is most and least important to you when it comes to holidays, use that to your advantage.


At the start of the conversation, keep your cards close. If your co-parent lays their cards on the table first, you will have more leverage to go after the things you really want. Work through each of the specific events and build out a calendar, keep track of what has been decided and what is still up in the air. Consider asking the following questions:

  • What dates are most important for you to have the children?
  • Do you have specific plans on those dates?
  • Would you be open to splitting those days based on the time of your plans?
  • Are there any holidays that are not as important to you?
  • Are we able to alternate these dates year over year or are there certain events / dates that you would request every year?


These probing questions allow you to see what is most important to your co-parent while leaving room for your considerations as well. You want to be fair but firm during this process. You do not want to walk away from the table getting none of the things you wanted, but you also shouldn’t expect to get everything you wanted. Reaching an agreement with a co-parent can be a stressful process. You may feel the need to “beat” them in the negotiations, but be reasonable. You have to work with this person for years to come, don’t start the relationship off on the wrong foot.



If you’re lucky, you and your co-parent were able to resolve the schedule without getting to this point. However, if you cannot reach an agreement with your co-parent, you’ve reached the dreaded scheduling stalemate. You’ve gone back and forth and you are unable to reach a resolution. It’s okay, the best laid plans sometimes go awry. Check out these tips for resolving the scheduling stalemate:


  1. Step Away: If you and your co-parent reflected, scheduled a call, discussed, and still could not reach an agreement, try stepping away. There is a time in every discussion where things get heated and no more progress can be made. Being successful co-parents is contingent on your ability to identify when you are getting to this point and knowing it is best to take a moment to cool down. You do not want to get into a yelling match or do something you regret. Before things get to that point, suggest you both step away, collect your thoughts, and meet again to discuss further once you’ve had time to think about the discussion. This is a great strategy because it allows you to regroup and refocus on what is important to you. Perhaps one party was being unreasonable and once they have time to independently reflect, they see that, and are able to come back to the table with a more open mind.


  1. Engage a Parenting Coordinator: If you believe you and your co-parent are unable to reach an agreement without assistance, it might be time to engage a parenting coordinator. This professional is an expert in listening to both sides of an argument and acting as an independent third party to help co-parents reach consensus. A neutral third party can be invaluable during these sensitive conversations. They can listen to both sides and suggest alternatives. They are also able to call out unfair behaviors in a way that is not accusatory or based on emotion. Parenting coordinators teach valuable skills to co-parents to help bring harmony to the relationship.


  1. Make Compromises: Going into these conversations, you knew you were not going to get everything you wanted. Are you able to suggest alternatives suitable to everyone’s needs? Have you gotten your non-negotiable items? Are you being stubborn? Think about where you are at in the negotiation process and how you could compromise to show an act of good faith to your co-parent. Think about the following compromises you could make and how that would impact your feelings towards the overall schedule.
    • I’m happy to let you take the children trick-or-treating, but I would like to have them two weeks before to go shopping for / making their costumes and taking them to see a new Halloween movie.
    • If you get the children on Christmas, I expect to have them the weekend following Christmas to celebrate with my side of the family.
    • I will let you have the girls for their birthdays this year, but I would expect to have them on their birthdays next year.


Beware, just because something was done a certain way this year does not mean that should be the agreement every year unless you agree to that in your discussions. If your co-parent has a certain arrangement this year, but it is important that the occasion alternates year over year, let them know that during the conversation.


  1. Review the Custody Agreement: At the end of the day, if your divorce is finalized, then you have a custody agreement. Custody agreements can vary in complexity and detail. If you need help understanding your custody agreement, or want legal help understanding your options if you and your co-parent can’t agree, then consider scheduling a consultation with a lawyer. An attorney can listen to your desires and advise on what legal options you have to get the things you want. It is always best to try to reach an agreement before going to court, but if you fear there is no way forward, this may be your only option.


Holidays can be stressful on their own, adding conflicting schedules and an unreasonable co-parent can make them event more difficult. However, using the strategies in this article can help you go into conversations with a clear plan of action. If things do not work out, there are options for you to get a fair schedule with your children. Remember you are not alone, there is a team of professionals waiting to assist you in your scheduling negotiations. Reach out for help if you need it, you will thank yourself later.   

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