A Parents Guide to Surviving the Holidays While Going Through Separation and/or Divorce

ByElizabeth J. McInturff in Family Law November 21st, 2014

The Holidays can be a stressful time for intact families; adding separation and/or divorce into the mix can feel like you’re jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Your children may be especially sensitive during this time, especially if the separation is recent or this is their first Holiday without the other parent. Managing both their and your expectations can help reduce the negative effects of divorce on children, avoid crushed feelings and dampened holidays. Below are several tips for making the Holidays a success when coping with divorce or separation:

     1.    Know Your Holiday Schedule:  If you have an existing custody order, refer to it early and often. You should be familiar with which parent has each Holiday, the days/times of the Holiday, who is responsible for transportation, and when the regular access schedule resumes. You do not want to find yourself planning an out-of-town Thanksgiving trip only to discover the day before that it is actually the other parent’s Holiday.

If there is not an existing custody order, try to reach out to the other parent (through counsel, if appropriate) and get an agreement in place. Make sure that it is in writing! Try to create a Holiday schedule early in the separation process so that you are not forced to make last minute decisions or plans.

If working out a schedule is impossible, you can seek relief from the Court and request that the Court set a Holiday schedule on an emergency basis. It’s important to remember, however, that you may not like what the Court decides if the Court even entertains such a request as an emergency.

      2.    Plan Ahead: If possible, plan your Holiday travel and activities ahead of time and keep the other parent in the loop. If you and the other parent are splitting a Holiday, e.g. you have Christmas Eve through 9:00 a.m. on Christmas morning and the other parent has Christmas morning through New Year’s Day, make sure that your plans do not interfere with the other parent’s time.

It’s also important to keep your kids in the loop. For example, if the children are transitioning to the other parent’s home at noon on Christmas Day, let them know. Kids need to feel that they have some control over the process too. Also, they will want to pack their favorite toys, clothes, and activities to bring with them. Both you and they will be happier (and avoid emotional meltdowns) if you are not scrambling at the last minute to get the backpack ready to go to Mom’s or Dad’s.

     3.     Keep Transitions as Smooth as Possible: This is part and parcel of keeping the other parent in the loop. If you are traveling from Philadelphia back to the D.C. area on Sunday, will you be able to transition the children at the same time and place or will you need the other parent to meet you half-way or at another location?

It may be tempting, but do not use the transitions as a chance to engage in an argument with the other parent. If this is impossible, ask a third party to be there with you (someone who won’t add heat to the flame!). Remember, this is about your kids and not about your ex.

     4.     Don’t “Out-Do”: Do not try to “out-do” the other parent and buy the children expensive gifts or trips. The children will see through it and you will just create bad feelings between you and the other parent.

If you feel like the other parent is trying to “one-up” you, don’t let it get to you and remember: the kids are just happy to be with you, especially right now when they want parent/family time.

     5.    No Bad-Mouthing!: Seriously, just don’t. Nothing good will come of commenting to the children about the quality of the other parent’s presents, whether they were late picking the children up, or anything else. Your kids will hear what you’re saying and it will either cause animosity between the kids and the other parent or the kids and you. In addition, if the other parent gets wind of it, they may use your behavior against you in a custody proceeding. Save the griping for when you are alone with your friends.

     6.     Create New Holiday Traditions: So you used to spend every Holiday with your ex’s parents? Well it’s time to jump start some new family traditions. This will help keep both you and the children from focusing on the past and will create some awesome memories. There’s plenty to do from starting Elf on the Shelf , participate in Cranksgiving;  a bike scavenger hunt to purchase food for shelters, volunteer internationally, or just spending a cozy night on the couch sipping eggnog. Think outside the box and have a great time!

     7.     Remember The Holidays Are Really About Family: The time that you spend with your children and other family members is the most important. Don’t let your separation or divorce impinge on an otherwise happy and joyful time.

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