When most people think of holidays they think of celebrations, overindulging in giant meals and sweet treats, parties, presents, passing on traditions, and making memories with friends and family. However, the holiday season can look very different after separation or divorce, particularly when children are involved. Add in a global pandemic and this holiday season will likely be quite unique for most families, particularly when co-parenting is in play.
As a family law attorney, I get the greatest number of calls around the holidays. While a custody order or parenting agreement typically directs which parent has custodial time on a given holiday, there are several tips I like to provide to parents in order to survive the holiday season while co-parenting. These tips can help alleviate confusion and hostility and ensure this holiday season is memorable for your children for the right reasons.
If you have a custody schedule, re-read it. While terms like “Father gets the days between school release and Christmas and Mother gets the days after Christmas through New Year’s” may seem straightforward, I advise clients, as soon as possible, to print out a calendar in order to review what the actual breakdown of custodial time will look like. If it is not spelled out in the agreement, make sure you and your ex agree as to how and when custodial exchanges occur – will holiday pick-up or drop-off differ from the exchanges that occurred during the rest of the year? Armed with that knowledge, it is far easier to plan events and celebrations that you and your children can look forward to together.
Communicate. While it may have been the norm in years past to take your children to see Santa Claus in the mall or go to large family holiday parties, that may not be the case in 2020. Make sure you are on the same page with your children’s other parent with respect to which activities you do and do not think are in the children’s best interests in light of the pandemic. Do you both approve of visiting relatives and friends? What forms of travel are you both comfortable with? Are there any activities that either parent strongly feels should be off-limits? Having these conversations up front (and out of the earshot of your kids) could help prevent your children from witnessing a nasty argument down the line.
Be as flexible as you reasonably (and safely!) can. Keep in mind who the holidays are the most special for: your children. While it may seem frustrating to trade or give up a parenting day to accommodate your former partner’s plans, take a deep breath and think about your children’s best interests. In addition to making sure your children are happy, being flexible and open to compromise may result in your co-parent being willing to compromise with you down the line.
Make new traditions. The fact that the holidays look a little different this year does not have to be a negative thing. Maybe it is the year to bust out the pajamas and have a full-day holiday movie marathon, at-home cookie decorating contest, or Zoom session for carol-singing. Keep the magic alive for your children and ensure that the 2020 holidays are your best yet.