Parenting Time During the Holidays
There's no more difficult time of the calendar year to grapple with divorce than the holiday season. This major life transition is naturally complicated when children are involved. Divorce often results in a much more complicated holiday schedule than pre-divorce families are usually accustomed. As we've discussed before here on the blog, your final judgment of divorce or property settlement agreement will likely contain a “holiday parenting calendar” establishing set times for the kids to be with each parent. A sample is posted on our website. For example, a holiday parenting schedule typically involves the parties alternating Christmas Eve (e.g. December 24th, at 6:00 p.m. until December 25th at noon) and Christmas Day (e.g. Christmas Day, December 25th at noon to December 26 at 6:00) on and odd-even year basis. Thanksgiving dinner will rotate annually. Divorced parents' ability to cooperate obviously varies widely. No two divorce situations are exactly alike. Sure, it's ideal for the kids if you and your former spouse get along well enough to follow a “liberal,” flexible schedule; when your children are old enough, they'll likely begin to make their own decisions independent of any formal arrangements. But reality is what it is, and ad hoc holiday parenting often isn't possible. There's no shame in it; you needed a divorce for a reason! Consequently, it's extremely important to have a workable parenting framework in place, either by court order or consent agreement, in order to inject some holiday predictability into your children's lives. Here are a few extra holiday post-divorce tips which might make seasonal parenting go a little more smoothly:
- Follow the Plan. Again, every divorce is unique. Some divorced parents retain a stronger relationship and can therefore proceed more spontaneously than others. If you can communicate with the other parent without a battle, be sure to do so and hammer out a mutual holiday plan well in advance… you definitely don't want your children's enduring holiday memory to be a last-minute curbside argument over Christmas Eve dinner! In most cases, it's critical to stick to the agreement contained in your divorce order or property settlement agreement and, if that particular arrangement is too ambiguous or simply isn't working anymore for one reason or the other, it may be time to seek legal advice and consider filing a motion to sort out holiday parenting issue going forward with the Court's assistance.
- Focus on the Holiday. Despite what I said about filing a motion, you're not going to reinvent your custody arrangement on December 24th at 7:59 p.m. New Jersey's family judges are enjoying their holidays at home, too, and barring a genuine emergency that threatens your children with irreparable harm, you're unlikely to receive a hearing date before the new year. Your best bet is to focus on the holiday at hand by making it the best possible experience for your children. That doesn't mean busting your credit card limit on extra presents or orchestrating a Clark Griswold-quality lighting display! Enjoying sustainable family traditions, creating new ones (remember: things will never be the exact same as they were before!), and spending quality time together watching television holiday special are your best bets and, coincidentally, much cheaper than
- Don't Put Your Kids in the Middle. This is really good advice for any time of year, but it's especially true (1) at the holidays and (2) as your children grow older. Making them choose between mommy and daddy on Christmas Eve is a real humbug. Follow the plan (see above), focus on the holiday (see also above), and avoid commenting on the other parent during your time with the kids.
- Leave the Surprises to Santa. Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas services are definitely not the best time to introduce your kids to that “new friend” in your life. It's also not the time to one-up the other parent with a gift that will “put him/her to shame.” Remember… you deserve to enjoy the holiday, but that enjoyment shouldn't come at the expense of your children or damage the other parent's relationship with the kids. Be smart about this stuff! Talk to the kids in advance; if you have that kind of a relationship, coordinating gifts with the other spouse will produce the best results. Even a gift “from Mom and Dad” will go a long way towards making sure your children feel like their parents truly care.
- Be Prepared for Your Children's Emotions. Even if you have a very workable parenting plan in place, your ex-spouse is perfectly cooperative, and you follow all of the other tips contained in this post, no one can change the fact that your family is no longer intact. They're likely to feel at least a little weird/upset/bummed particularly if the divorce is recent. Divorce may've been the best thing for you, the other parent and your children, but that doesn't mean change is ever easy. It will take time to adjust to the new status quo. That means allowing your kids to express their concerns without feeling pressure to bury them for the sake of holiday serenity.
First and foremost, everyone at DeMichele & DeMichele wishes you and yours a wonderful holiday season. That said, you have rights and your children do, too. Compassionate, experienced and zealous representation is only an email or phone call away. If you or someone you know is grappling with a custody, parenting time or a holiday schedule dispute in New Jersey, contact the family law attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele online today. Your confidential initial consultation can also be scheduled by calling our family law attorneys: (856) 546-1350.