How to keep holiday visitation from being a sticking point

When it comes to celebrating the holidays, many people hearken back to their childhoods and want to replicate their family rituals for their own children, including things like lighting the menorah, decorating the tree, opening one present only on Christmas Eve, etc.  Yet, if you were not a child of divorce and now you and your mate are divorcing, it may be a bit unrealistic to expect those holiday traditions to continue exactly as you remember with your family.

For many divorcing couples going through mediation or a collaborative divorce, there’s an inference that ‘my spouse and I are working together on an agreement that’s fair and we will work the holiday arrangements out’.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the holidays, what you think to be reasonable may not seem the same way to your spouse. That’s why it’s so important to be as definitive as possible when setting a holiday schedule when going through a divorce.

The first thing most divorcing couples must come to terms with is that things will be different. Holiday rituals you had before will probably have to be altered to fit schedules. It really is a time where you have to take a step back and think about “what is best for the kids”.

Some couples choose to share holidays. This can work but it may have some drawbacks. For example, if the kids spend Christmas morning with you and then the afternoon with your spouse, that means an entire day of opening presents. Will that be too much for them?

Or, if you are splitting Thanksgiving, will they be eating two meals at two houses?

Alternating holidays is another option. For example, the kids spend Thanksgiving with Dad and Christmas/Chanukah with Mom. While this can seem reasonable on the surface, it does require an adjustment for everybody in the family and you have to learn to be okay with it.  And what happens when Chanukah falls on Thanksgiving, like this year?

Flexibility is the key when trying to make important holidays work best for your children.  It is impossible to plan for all contingencies around the holidays. You or your ex-spouse might wish to alter the schedule for some particular reason (e.g. an elderly grandparent is making the trip home this year).  If you are on the receiving  end of that request it is best to remember that you will probably have your own special request down the road.  That said, when divorced parents cannot agree upon a change in holiday plans, the holiday schedule set out in the divorce agreement  becomes the deciding factor.

Although parties often  try to go to probate court for an alteration to holiday visitation, last-minute petitions are frowned upon. The court schedules are extremely busy before the holidays and there’s a good chance you will get no modification prior to the holidays.

So, the importance of ironing out a reasonable and realistic holiday visitation schedule is extremely important while trying to settle your divorce—even if other issues in the divorce seem to be more pressing.  Again, altering your expectations can be the key to keeping the holiday visitation from impacting the entire divorce negotiation. Holidays will not be the same as before. That can be a little difficult to swallow, but it does present the opportunity for new traditions to be started.

The best advice here is take a step back, think about how it will be for the kids, and come up with two scenarios: one you want and the one you can live with. If you and your ex-spouse both have those as a starting point, getting the rest of the agreement done should be possible.

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