Whether you’re in a blended, separated, recently divorced, or single-parent family, it’s never too early to plan for the holidays. Our team at PURCELL STOWELL PC shares brief thoughts on navigating the holiday season.
Navigating the holidays in the midst of divorce proceedings or a custody dispute can be incredibly stressful, not only for the parents but also for their children. It is important to think ahead and develop a holiday schedule well in advance, so that neither parent ends up in court during the holiday season. Holiday visitation schedules vary, but a typical holiday schedule would be one parent has certain holidays in even years and the other parent has odd years. Some parents choose to split the holidays in half, for example, one parent would have Easter 9am- 1pm and the other parent would take the 1pm-5pm timeslot. I encourage clients to try and put aside their differences during that time of year and to be flexible and accommodating for the benefit of the children. Whether that means offering to pick them up a little later so they can spend more time with their cousins, or compromising on an exchange location that results in less travel time. The holidays are about spending time with family and loved ones, and the more children see their parents compromising, communicating, and working together to make the holidays memorable, the more it sets the tone for holidays in the years to come.
Holiday plans, as with all parenting plans, should be focused on the children and not on the parents. There is often conflict between the family traditions of each parent. I have had many cases where the parties just wanted to fight to preserve their family traditions, regardless of the age or impact the conflict had on the children. I constantly try to remind these clients that children do not care about what specific day their holiday celebrations occur. In fact, most children would prefer to have more holidays to celebrate. Two Christmas’? Yes, please! If a holiday plan can’t accommodate all of the traditions of both parents, start new traditions. Move old traditions to different times that fit within the parenting plan. It isn’t the specific time or even the tradition that matters. The children only want to have quality time to celebrate the holidays with both of their parents.
Holidays are stressful in the best of times. Throw a divorce into the mix and the stress level multiplies exponentially. To help lessen the stress, be very clear in your custody agreement about both the exact time and location of the holiday custody exchange. Saying that a custody exchange will occur “On the Christmas Eve” leaves a lot to be misinterpreted. Better to say “On Christmas Eve, the custody exchange will occur at 7 pm at Mom’s house.” If you and your ex are getting along, you absolutely can adjust this arrangement to a schedule that better fits your needs. If you are not getting along, however, the court order is clear, so no game playing/ruined holiday plans can occur. It is an oldie but a goodie – better safe than sorry.