Transitioning from an intact to a separated family poses many challenges. For the parents. And for their children.
Holidays are a special challenge all their own.
Time and again, I hear from Judges and Magistrates that litigating parents don’t tell the Judge or Magistrate what holidays they celebrate, much less what holiday schedule they want. When this happens, sometimes parents are given the chance to submit a proposed holiday schedule after the trial. Or sometimes the parents end up with the Judge’s or Magistrate’s holiday schedule (whether the parents and children observe those holidays or not). Or, and more problematic yet, the parents end up without a specific holiday schedule or only told to alternate holidays. For litigating parents, this does not bode well for peaceful holidays or staying out of court in future.
Likewise in my own cases, some clients defer to me to craft the holiday schedule. There is no unified, mandatory holiday schedule. So, the holiday schedule needs to be customized to each client’s family. I discuss this in more detail in Customizing Your Case – Holidays.
Why do many parents gloss over a holiday schedule for their children? Perhaps because it is too painful. Because change is difficult. Because it’s just one thing too many during the stress of separation and divorce. Because it’s assumed that holidays will be alternated. Or divided. Or split. Or shared. Or perhaps holidays are not that important to a particular family.
Whatever the reason, ignoring holidays does not make them go away. Rather, holidays are an opportunity to create new traditions for the reshaped family.
Re-envisioning holidays involves a lot of factors: two households, one or more children, travel, immediate and extended families, established traditions, and…perhaps hardest of all…only one holiday.
In my experience, rigid thinking about holidays causes the most problems. Such as when one parent insists on having the same holiday each year. Or both parents insist on having the same part of the same holiday each year. Or the parents insist on splitting a holiday when impractical transition-wise for the children.
This rigid thinking is often fueled by parents focusing on themselves. On the parent’s own need to be with the children on holidays. On how the parents feel about the holidays. Understandable. Separation is often hard for parents.
But, the focus should be the children. Focusing on the children means the children having meaningful time to celebrate the holiday without making the holiday unenjoyable or difficult because of too many transitions. This requires consideration of practical realities.
For example, many holidays fall on one day. And, for many one-day holidays, the celebration or observance happens during a specific part of that day. It is rare and usually unsustainable for separated parents to celebrate holidays together with their children. Realistically, a child can only be with one parent at one time.
Additionally, location – where holidays will be celebrated – is important. A child can only be in one place at one time. So, where do family live and what travel is required? Travel can make splitting a holiday impossible and may make alternating the holiday itself or entire holiday break a necessity.
Even if nearby, think about transitions. Where and when would transitions be if on the actual holiday? What would that look like for your children? Does that mean they will or will not be able to enjoy the day and spending time with family? Transitioning mid-day can make the holiday equally unenjoyable for parents and their children.
Consider existing traditions with extended family and if those traditions can be preserved in some fashion. For both sides of the children’s family – because parents separate and divorce but children do not divorce their parents or parents’ families. Can traditions be observed at a different time? If not, can new traditions be started?
While separation is an ending, it is also a beginning. So, too, with holidays.
Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke and University of Baltimore School of Law. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law. You can follow her on Linked In, Facebook, LindsayParvis.com, and subscribe to her Newsletter for discussion, news, and developments in Maryland family law.