For families going through a divorce, the holidays can be a stressful time. Aside from searching for the perfect gifts to top everyone’s wish lists, booking and organizing travel plans to be with loved ones and decorating homes to reflect the celebration, dealing with separation issues during the holidays can make the season a challenge both logistically and emotionally.
Figuring out custody arrangements during the holidays can be particularly stressful. The conflict that these negotiations can cause can be minimized, however, with some careful planning, communication and scheduling.
Start by making a loose annual holiday plan to define what holidays are most important for each parent. For example, some families may place more emphasis on big Thanksgiving Day gatherings, while others might be more interested in Easter or Fourth of July events. Identifying these at the start of each year and maintaining a joint calendar can help to avoid conflict and arguments later on. Having an honest discussion about all the options and compromises from the start can help manage expectations for the entire family.
If both parents want the same holiday with the children, alternating years can be a compromise. Parents who live close to each other can even discuss sharing time over longer winter holidays, with one parent having custody over Christmas Eve, for example, while the other takes Christmas Day.
Once you’ve ironed out a holiday schedule, it’s best to start briefing your children to make them feel as comfortable as possible about logistics and plans. At this time, it is crucial to document your plans not just verbally, but also in writing. In the hectic time before the holiday season, it is often easy to forget plans and promises. Be sure to specify holiday hand-off times, what your children should pack, gift requirements or expectations and even proper transport.
It’s important to have your plan documented, not just so that you won’t forget it, but also so you don’t inadvertantly violate an existing custody agreement. Additionally, when parents fail to iron out custodial conflicts, the courts step in to decide how children will spend their holidays.
By fostering open communication, forward planning and documenting your expectations, you can help to reduce stress and arguments to ensure that both you, your former spouse, your children and the rest of the extended family will enjoy happier holidays.