“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” At least that’s what Andy Williams’ hit 1963 Christmas single would have you believe.
But if you’re going through a divorce, the holidays might look very different than a glossy Hallmark card. And if you have children, co-parenting during the holidays may look even worse.
Tensions can run high over things as small as the best way to give gifts to issues as daunting as how to split custodial time.
It may seem early, but now’s the time to start planning ahead. Come December, phones in family law firms around the country ring off the hook. Questions and concerns run the gamut. Who has the children for Christmas? For New Years? What about that last-minute ski vacation you have planned with the kids?
As with most things in life, the best way to enjoy a harmonious holiday is to not leave details unknown until the last minute. Don’t let poor planning get the best of your holiday season. Instead, follow these ten tips for successful co-parenting during the holidays and enjoy a relaxing celebration with your children and family.
Here’s are some strategies for successful co-parenting during the holidays.
1. Get Familiar
Not with the eggnog at your workplace holiday party, but with your most recent court order. Amidst a flurry of school activities and appointments, it’s probably been a while since you’ve looked at it. Chances are, the prescribed holiday schedule will supersede the one you follow on ordinary weeks. Make sure you know who has your kids and when. If circumstances have changed, the time to adjust the order is now – with your attorney – not during a Christmas morning argument with your ex-spouse.
2, Talk it Out
Once you’ve reviewed your court order, send your ex-spouse a friendly message about the holiday schedule to make sure you’re both on the same page. If there are any potential issues with exchanges or visitation, it’s best to know about them now to avoid an emergency trip to court later. When this happens, it interrupts valuable family time for both you and your attorney and is sure to put the judge in a less than stellar mood. Your attorney should be happy to review the documents for you at a minimal cost to assist in this process if anything is unclear.
3. Get the Kids Involved
Transitions are hard for all of us, but when you’re a child who’s splitting time for some of the biggest days of the year, things can get even more emotional. To avoid surprises as you take on co-parenting during the holidays, make a calendar and post it where your kids can see it, and talk to them about where they’re going to be each day. The only surprises they should be receiving at this time of year are from Santa, not from unpredictable schedules and fighting parents.
4. Be Flexible
Your ex-spouse’s great aunt is flying in during your custodial time and wants to shower your children with candy and gifts? Let her. Your children’s cousins want them to come over to your ex-spouse’s house to build a snowman when you were planning to take them to lunch? Let them build the snowman. While following the schedule is important, so is fostering your children’s bond with both sides of their extended families.
The holidays are often the only time of the year when families can travel to be together, and it’s always in your children’s best interest to forge strong bonds with those extended relations.
5. Prepare for Anything
If you’re traveling out of town with your children to visit extended family or otherwise enjoy your time off from work and school, make sure to provide your ex-spouse with emergency phone numbers and the address at which you will be staying. Clarify any gray areas beforehand and get your ex-spouse’s consent to your plans in writing if you’re concerned about future conflict.
The last thing you want is a mad scramble to the airport because your children’s other parent doesn’t feel you notified him/her properly.
6. Don’t Get Tricky
About that last-minute ski trip – it might be best to hold it off until next year. As a rule, taking minor children out-of-state without express written permission from their other parent is a big no-no. If you do want to partake in any last-minute activities away from home, communication with and permission from your ex-spouse is non-negotiable.
Don’t try to ‘sneak away’ or pull a fast one on your co-parent. This is almost guaranteed to backfire, and it won’t paint you in a good light.
7. Be Proactive
If you have any concerns about the time your child may be spending with his or her other parent – especially in cases where there is a history of substance or alcohol abuse in visiting family – be sure to discuss it with your attorney ahead of time so the visitation schedule can be modified as needed. Your child’s safety is of the utmost importance and should not be left to chance.
8. Stay Positive
Regardless of the family situation, perfect holidays don’t exist. Go with the flow and take time to relax and help your children have the best holiday possible. Remember, your children will only benefit from your cooperation and communication with their other parent. If things don’t go as planned, remind yourself it takes time to get comfortable with new ways of doing things – even if they’re for the best.
9. Make New Tradition
If thinking about ‘old’ family traditions makes you sad, focus on what new traditions you can create for every year going forward. The holidays can be a tremendous time of growth and positive change. This is your chance to try out all the wacky holiday games and fun you never had the opportunity to try before. Get your kids involved and plan some new activities to enjoy with them again next year – who knows what you might discover together.
10. Be Kind to Yourself
There may come a year when you invite your children’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – and maybe even their other parent – to a holiday meal without thinking about it twice, but this doesn’t have to be that year. Recognize healing from a fresh divorce takes time, and you needn’t force yourself too far outside your comfort zone.
At the same time, it’s important to remember your children’s relationships with their extended families haven’t changed, and you should do what you can to make sure they enjoy their company. The learning curve can be steep; cut yourself some slack.
This probably won’t be the easiest holiday season, but armed with these ten tips on co-parenting during the holidays, you can make it the best it can possibly be. Remember to plan ahead, prepare your kids, communicate with your ex and, most of all, go with the flow.
Lean on friends and family and enjoy the time you have with your children. Your attorney is there to help make sure things run smoothly and to avoid any last-minute emergencies. After all is said and done, the greatest gift you can give your children this holiday season is a peaceful and happy time with their family.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California, with a focus on high asset divorce, complex property issues, child and spousal support, move aways, settlement agreements, mediation and family law appeals. www.twitter.com/LawyerMyra