Tips on Holiday Co-Parenting When Divorced or Separated

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While the holiday season can be magical, for those divorced or separated couples with children, they can be an especially challenging time of the year as well. Consider Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hannukah – or, looking ahead to Easter, Passover and/or just plain old Spring Break: each can be emotionally challenging for intact families and much more for children who transition between two households. Don’t panic – there are steps you can take to make sure your holidays are family-friendly, no matter how the makeup of your family may have changed over time.

Have a parenting schedule in place? Don’t put off reviewing the holiday portion of that agreement. A parenting schedule can come in several forms. It can be a Court Order or an Agreement between parents. Typically, the parenting schedule over the holidays can be complicated when you are trying to work it in to the “regular” schedule. Act now to understand your holiday parenting time, as the holidays can be stressful enough. Sit down with a calendar and compare how your “regular” parenting schedule fits in to your “holiday” schedule. Most Court Orders and Agreements reflect that holiday parenting time supercedes and replaces the “regular” schedule – which often leads to confusion and parents trying to find “make up” time when they have to miss a “regular” weekend in order for the other parent to exercise holiday time. Still confused? Ask your attorney to review the schedule to make sure your understanding is accurate, or ask him or her to work with your ex (or their attorney) to request changes. Figuring it all out weeks before the holiday in question can alleviate last-minute panic and allow for you to have more time to work on the important tasks – such as finding that perfect Spiderman or Barbie.

Don’t have a parenting schedule in place? Schedule time ASAP to communicate – and cooperate – with your ex to work out holiday logistics. The holidays are an emotional time – especially the first time you have to follow a holiday schedule after your separation. Trying to sort out what each household’s holiday will look like just a few days before the occasion can result in one parent winding up without the children and a lot of resentment. If you and the other parent have an amicable relationship with healthy communication, consider talking with him or her about expectations for the holidays. If there are still too many emotions tied to the conversation, or your conversations are simply unproductive, use email as a safer and more effective alternative. Questions may include whether you are going to share Thanksgiving Day, or alternate the Thanksgiving holiday each year? If one parent has Thanksgiving with the children this year, how does that affect the other parent’s position on the Winter Break in December? Be careful to not involve the children in these grown up decisions or to share plans with them before there is an agreed upon schedule.

Consider the long-term future. As you negotiate this holiday season, consider what you might want future seasons to look like – what is most important to you and what could you compromise now to gain greater flexibility for your household later? Will you ever want the flexibility of travel during the holiday season? For example, if Christmas Eve is important to your traditions, and you cannot commit to the idea of the other parent sharing in Christmas Eve in alternating years, then it may be necessary for the Court to determine a parenting schedule – a step which could be incredibly costly and time intensive. Think constructively and objectively as to whether the Court will believe the children should be given the opportunity to spend time with both parents during special holidays, such as Christmas Eve. So, before you refuse to compromise, keep in mind that while it is important to consider your family traditions, you should also think about life three years from now. While it can seem impossible to think about now, you need to look forward to your next chapter.

And finally, learn how best to communicate with your co-parent. Divorce is, by its nature, an emotionally fraught process and communicating effectively with your former spouse afterwards is typically a challenge. Where children are involved, however, it is a challenge you must do your best to meet, for their sakes. Your children’s perception of how you communicate with each other will carry on in their minds long past the holiday season. Take time to figure out the means of communication that works best: can you speak directly with your ex or would communicating through your attorneys be more effective? If you can speak directly, what method has proven most efficient: in-person, phone or email? Setting up a regular “touch base” schedule throughout the year can help make co-parenting more consistent, effective and just plain easier – for the holidays, and every day.

Attorney Nicole H. Sodoma is the founder of Sodoma Law, based in Charlotte. She has been in practice for more than a decade, and opened Sodoma Law in 2008, and focuses on family law. Other areas of practice for the firm include assisted reproductive technology, estate planning and business law.