Going through a divorce is never easy. When you have to do it with child custody arrangements, it can be even tougher. Add in the holidays and extended familial relationships and the pressure mounts even more!
If both parents are actively involved in raising their children, it is important to have an amicable and agreeable custody arrangement that allows each parent and their extended family time with the children, especially around the holidays. Often, both parents and their families would like to celebrate the holidays with the children, but that can be difficult to arrange depending on the geographical living arrangements and the parents’ relationship.
Dealing with custody arrangements for the holidays can be difficult, but these tips may help alleviate some of the stress for all involved.
When detailing your holiday custody arrangement, it is important to remember that the children come first. As long as both sides continue to focus on the best interest of the child(ren), then you should be able to reach an agreement that works for everyone, especially if you follow these important tips.
Put it in writing: As with any legal agreement, you will want to make sure custody arrangements are always in writing, signed by both parties and witnessed by an attorney, magistrate or notary public. That way, there is legal documentation and proof that a resolution was decided on prior to the holiday season. It can deter arguments in the long run. Even if you are friendly with your ex, never leave anything to do with custody of your children to a handshake or someone’s word. The legal document not only protects you, but it protects your children as well.
Compromise: This may be just one word, but it is huge in ensuring peace is kept, especially in regard to the holiday custody arrangement. A lot of divorced couples will agree to separating the holidays and swapping every other year. For instance, the first year after the split, the father has the children for Thanksgiving while the mother has the children for Christmas, and in year two, it will switch to mom’s house for Thanksgiving and being with dad on Christmas.
There are endless options when it comes to compromising, but be prepared to not get your way with everything. Find the middle ground, and you can all be happy with the outcome.
Be respectful: For the sake of your children, never talk badly about your ex or argue in their presence about the holidays or anything else. Hear each other out and take each other’s family traditions into consideration. If you know attending mass or having a large Christmas Eve dinner with the whole extended family is a tradition for your ex, it may be nice to allow the kids to attend each year. Of course, this should be reciprocated.
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Expand the celebration: Add an extra day to your children’s holiday celebrations! Have a second Thanksgiving on the Friday after or celebrate an additional Christmas the day after or any other day that works for the families. It is OK to think outside of the box and start your own traditions. Post-divorce is a great time to create something special for you and your children to look forward to every year. It may end up being more memorable and more important to them than the actual holiday!
Ask: Depending on the age of your children, you may not have to be the deciding factor. Ask your children who they would like to see for the holidays. They may decide they like their paternal grandparents’ Christmas Eve traditions and prefer the maternal side of the family for New Year’s Day. They may decide they would rather spend the day at the home they spend most of their time in. If you can, take their wishes into consideration.
Celebrate together or share the days: For some friendly exes, it is just easier to continue celebrating the holidays as they did when they lived together. If that works for you, that’s wonderful. Continue doing so but be prepared for a change when/if a new significant other comes into the fray.
Consequently, if you don’t necessarily want to spend the holidays together, consider splitting the day in two. If you live close to each other, one parent can have the children in the morning while the other can get the afternoon. Be as equitable with time and the commute as possible. There is always an option to meet halfway if the distance is a little greater than you prefer.
Collaborate on gift-giving: Another often overlooked aspect of the holidays or seeing extended family is gift-giving. It is OK to establish guidelines. There is no guarantee that extended family members will adhere to them, but as long as you and your ex are on the same page, you can keep things going smoothly.
You may be able to go in together on a big gift that the children are asking for or you can set a spending or number of presents limit for aunts, uncles and grandparents. Additionally, you may want to compare notes on the children’s wish list to ensure you aren’t buying the same things. Make sure to communicate with each other and with your extended family once you have solid plans in place.
Do You Need Help Drafting a Holiday Child Custody Agreement?
With the holidays fast approaching, if you need to establish a plan for your children, the time is now. Even if you have an agreed-upon arrangement with your ex but it is not written down in a legally binding contract, it is recommended that you do so as soon as possible.
Amy Turos brings extensive experience in family law, estate planning and motor vehicle accidents throughout Portage, Trumbull, Geauga and Summit counties.