With Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day all occurring within a short time span, the holiday season usually adds a whole different layer of difficulties and headaches for divorced parents when it comes to parenting time schedules this time of year. Whether it is trying to find a time to visit with grandparents, family and friend visiting from out of town, holiday parties and events, the multitude of church and school programs, or simply figuring out child care during the children’s holiday break from school, the holiday season easily amplifies the usual difficulties that accompany parenting time schedules.
It is important, however, to remain calm and follow some simple tips to help minimize unnecessary stress and tension between you and your ex, and ensure that your children get the most out of this time of year.
The first question you should ask yourself when setting up plans and vacations around the holidays should be, “How would my children like to celebrate this time?” Children love this time of year and look forward to spending time with both parents and extended family. Your children’s needs should be first and foremost. Be willing not only to be flexible and supportive, but also be overly accommodating to your children’s need to include both parents, such as allowing more phone calls to your ex to share excitement over the holidays or simply because the children feel anxious or homesick.
The key is to remember that you need to think of what is in your children’s best interest, even if it might conflict with what would make you personally happy. The holidays are a very important time of year for your children, so you should strive to do everything in your power to ensure your children’s happiness and keep out any unnecessary stress and strife.
Many parenting time plans contain agreements for the holidays that generally divide up the holidays equally between both parents on an alternating yearly schedule. Usually Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are considered two separate holidays (the same is true for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day). So for example, while one parent is awarded Christmas Eve (and the overnight) one year and the other parent is awarded Christmas Day, the schedule is usually switched the following year.
There are times, however, when it is in the best interest of your children and your co-parenting relationship with your ex to allow some flexibility or a slight change to the parenting time schedule if both parties agree. Remember that your children and their needs come first. The goal during the holiday season is to make arrangements that satisfy everyone (especially your children) as much as possible, and that will not trigger an unnecessary dispute resulting in going back to court. Therefore, when it comes to modifying parenting time plans during the holiday season, we always tell our clients to choose their battles wisely and really consider if the fight is worth it. Remember that the door swings both ways, and you might appreciate a return of the favor one day.
With everything stated in No. 2 in mind, there are times where the right battles do occur, and the other parent is being unreasonable or not putting the children’s best interests first. If you believe that there will be a problem with this during the holidays, it is important that you take steps to resolve this issue now, and talk to an attorney well in advance so that there will be sufficient time to negotiate a resolution or go to court if necessary. Courts are closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day and their calendars typically fill up weeks in advance. If you wait too long before reaching out to an attorney, you risk the possibility that the court may not be able to help you in time.
Share your children’s wish lists and coordinate gift giving to ensure not only that your children do not receive duplicate gifts, but that both parents also feel included and share the overall costs of the gifts. As stated before, the more cooperative and easy-going Mom and Dad are during this time of year, the more your children can relax and enjoy this special time of year and part of their lives with both of you.
Resist the temptation to turn the holiday into a competition to one-up your ex for the best presents, activities, or vacations. In the end, it doesn’t help anyone. Instead, when shopping for presents or planning vacations, think of ways to mindfully include the other parent. For example, you could consider joining forces with your ex to buy one bigger present for your child that comes from both of you. Not only would this avoid turning the holidays into a competition, but it would also tell your child that even though the two of you are no longer married, you will both always be there for them.
For many families, the holidays are entrenched with traditions. After a divorce, however, it may be too emotionally difficult or even impossible to continue following those traditions. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have new family traditions now. Instead, take this time to make new traditions with your children.
Ultimately, the holidays are about taking time out of our normal, everyday lives to celebrate and spend time with our loved ones. Get creative and come up with new traditions to follow that will be positive and happy experiences for you and your children.
We hope that you will not only find these tips useful during the holidays, but also throughout the year. With the right mindset, both you and your children will enjoy the holidays and look forward to celebrating them again next year.
To discuss any concerns about your parenting time schedule during the holidays or any other time of the year, do not hesitate to contact us at (651) 340-9642 or (651) 964-2024 (videophone).
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