The holidays are often the most difficult time of the year for divorced parents, especially if the divorce or separation is fairly recent.
There are a number of logistical hurdles involved in dividing holidays between both holidays in addition to reconciling potential feelings of anger or loneliness that can wreck what is traditionally a joyous time of year. That can be particularly challenging for fathers who are often designated as the non-custodial parent.
As tough as it is, advanced planning and a good attitude can go a long way towards reducing the stress of the holidays for yourself and children while also starting some new traditions that you all grow to cherish.
Holiday Custody Schedule
Communication is one of the most essential parts of co-parenting and its importance is magnified during the holiday season.
You and your ex might have disagreements, but coming up with a schedule that works for both sides ahead of time and sticking to it can mitigate one of the most common issues divorced couples face during the holidays.
If you’re already divorced, the holiday parenting time schedule should already be set out in the parenting plan of your settlement agreement. This court order must be upheld or else the offending party could be held in contempt of court.
However, if your separation is recent or you have yet to receive official orders from the court, conflict can quickly arise since nothing officially designates the parenting agreement. If parents are not officially divorced, they are presumed to have 50/50 custody until the court says otherwise.
This can result in issues since there’s little that can be done if one parent decides to refuse visitation.
It’s important that you and your ex put your personal disagreements on the backburner to work together on an agreement that will minimize conflict for your kids. Odds are, they want to see both of you on Christmas, especially if this is the first year that the holidays are different for them.
The first holiday season after divorce will almost certainly be the toughest, but the smoother you make the transition for the children, the better they will cope.
One of the most effective ways to get past the awkwardness that is inevitable during the first holiday season as a divorced family is to start new holiday traditions. This is a great way to make things fun and create new memories while avoiding dwelling on the past.
Your new traditions don’t have to be anything elaborate. It could be something as simple as buying a tree and decorating it or coming up with fun ways to stay connected while your part in the days leading up to Christmas.
You could even start new annual events, like driving through town and trying to find the most elaborately decorated house.
Whatever you do will depend on your holiday custody schedule, as well as your ex’s flexibility.
Many courts will implement commonly used custody schedules, such as alternating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day every year. Some courts will also allow parents to share holidays under certain circumstances.
Regardless, you’ll still have the chance to come up with new traditions so that your children get the most out of the holidays even though their parents are divorced.
The task of creating a fair parenting arrangement during the holidays is much trickier if the court has yet to issue orders. Keep in mind, even if you and your ex no longer get along, it is still your responsibility as parents to do what is right for the kids so they have a happy holiday season. That means shielding them from the conflict between you and your wife as that exposure can be psychologically damaging.
Coming up with fun new traditions can help soften the stress and heartache your kids experience and also gives you some peace of mind during this hectic time of year.
Even if you enter the holiday season trying to keep things civil and friendly, many divorced parents inevitably run into issues regarding the custody schedule.
This is especially tough for non-custodial dads since they already get less contact with their children than is ideal, and when problems do come up during the holidays they tend to be the ones who get the short end of the stick.
If you’ve received court orders outlining a custody schedule and your ex refuses to abide by them for any reason, you can hold her in contempt of court, although that may come later since courts are typically booked this time of year and it can take quite some time to schedule a hearing.
If you have yet to receive court orders, it could be more difficult to get make-up time ordered, but it’s not impossible.
Make sure to document everything that happens. Save texts and emails because they can be used in court as evidence and any excuse your ex makes for going against initial plans could be used to prove to the judge that she is in the wrong.
It’s a good idea to get your plans in writing ahead of time, whether that is in an official court order or an unofficial agreement between you and your spouse. That way you have documented a plan you and your ex agreed to and you can show the court that your ex went back on her word.
The first holiday season after divorce is certain to be difficult, but the more advanced planning you do the more likely it will go smoothly and the better off all parties will be.
You should do whatever you can to make the season as happy and joyful as possible for both you and your children.
If you are unclear about how to handle child custody during the holidays or are worried about your ex withholding visitation during this time of year, consult with a family law attorney to figure out what legal options are available to you.