Now that autumn is here, the holiday season is right around the corner. While the holidays can be a time of joy for many families, this might not be the case for those who are going through a divorce or separation. When there are minor children involved, planning Christmas vacation can become quite complicated. There are steps that divorcing parents can take, however, to prevent acrimony and restore harmony during the holidays.
Let’s face it: many people have unrealistic expectations during the holidays, but no family is perfect, regardless of whether a divorce is on the horizon. Obviously, dealing with a marital breakup can be stressful, and the usual stress of the holiday season can add to the tension. Nonetheless, it is crucial to put the best interests of the children first and try to avoid conflicts during the holidays.
Although no one really wants to go through a divorce during the holidays, sometimes it is inevitable. In fact, given the stress that the holidays can bring, it may actually be the best time to separate. Even though spouses who are separated are still married, living apart can give both parties the space to think things through and mitigate the tensions during the holidays.
One way to avoid the tension, acrimony and grief of a marital breakup during the holidays is to pursue an alternative dispute resolution process such as collaborative divorce. This non-adversarial approach is designed to avoid litigation by creating a negotiating environment for a good faith exchange of information without the customary conflict often associated with the legal discovery process. For this process to be successful, the parties must negotiate in good faith. Both spouses, and their attorneys, must also agree in writing that if the process is not successful the parties must find other counsel to represent them in any ensuing litigation.
Additionally, a collaborative divorce is an interdisciplinary approach that relies on other professionals, such as business valuators, financial advisors, mental health care providers, and a child’s representative or a guardian ad litem who help the parties deal with the legal, economic and emotional consequences of the divorce. This approach is ultimately designed to preserve family unity, which is essential during the holidays and following your divorce.
Of course, the spouses must come to an agreement on custody arrangements and visitation rights – or “parenting time.” In short, there must be a clear understanding of who gets custody during the holidays and this must be memorialized. One common approach is to alternate holidays, whereby the children spend Thanksgiving with one parent, and Christmas with the other. The next year, the schedule can be reversed. In short, a collaborative divorce allows the parties to devise a well thought out parenting plan that takes the holidays into consideration.
Divorcing couples are often so focused on finalizing their divorce that the holidays sneak up on them before the divorce is finalized. They are busy negotiating terms for their post-divorce life, they forget to make agreements for the holidays just around the corner. If you do not have a signed parenting plan or other court order addressing temporary parenting time, this can cause a great deal of disappointment, confusion, and stress during the holidays. Whether you are currently divorcing or contemplating divorce, now is a good time to consider how you will spend time with your children both during the holidays and over winter break. If court intervention is necessary, it can take many weeks before a judge will hear your matter. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming your spouse will amicably agree to your desired holiday parenting time schedule. It’s important to make sure you have a solid agreement long before the holidays arrive.
In the end, going through a divorce can be complicated for all family members and a heavier emotional burden during the holidays. The best way to lift that burden is to consult with a compassionate and knowledgeable divorce attorney.
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