Is it just me, or has this year simply flown by? All of a sudden, the holidays are here. While this is usually a joyous season, if recently divorced, you’re probably wondering what it will mean to navigate the holiday schedule. I hope to offer some encouraging words on how to make the holidays better for you and your children.
Honor the Holiday Schedule
Typically, parents split time during the holidays, whether that means dividing Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks in half or alternating those periods each year. As a result, the non-custodial or alternate residential parent usually has extra time with the children during these breaks. This change in the schedule may mean that special concessions must be made. For example, additional time may be required for traveling to visit out-of-town family. These schedule changes can create conflict if parents, stepparents, and others cannot work together.
Being Flexible Is Key
Your visitation schedule needs to be about the children. Regardless of the terms of your parenting order, keep the focus on them and the fun you want them to have during the holidays. Children typically want to spend time with both parents while enjoying the flexibility of the holiday schedule as well as time out of school. Refusing to be accommodating for flights, travel schedules, transportation by stepparents, or other details is petty, and courts in most every jurisdiction view such behavior as unreasonable. So flexibility on the part of both parties is key. Be sure to communicate with your ex as soon as you know your travel arrangements. If he or she is involved in pick-ups, let them know times, dates, and other details as soon as you can make it available. The more time each party has to plan, the better it will be for all. Travel arrangements can often be difficult when working within a specific window of time, so don’t punish a parent over things he or she may not be able to control.
It Takes Two to Tango
Remember that it’s not reasonable to expect the custodial parent to just drop everything and cater to your demands when you provide short notice. Plan a month ahead and work together. As an attorney who practices family law exclusively, I see many scenarios that end up in litigation because of poor planning and lack of communication. If you cannot talk to your ex-spouse over the phone, use text messaging and email. Do not use your child as an emissary. Keep a respectful tone and be prompt. This will also allow you to keep a record of communication in the event a parent or ex-spouse is being unreasonable.
If you are newly divorced or going through the holidays without your family intact for the first time, it may be an emotional, difficult period. It does not, however, have to be negative unless you choose to make it so. Remember to keep your children’s best interests at heart. They are riding an emotional roller coaster, too. While it’s not easy at any age, most experts agree that divorce is hardest on older children, so be aware of their feelings and try to accommodate their needs.
I recommend volunteering with your children at a soup kitchen or similar location that helps those in need. It may help them understand that, although their life is not picture perfect, they have much to be thankful for. I hope these tips make your holiday season more manageable.
— Justin Thomas heads the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC