Tips for Separated Parents During the Holiday Season

 In Blog, Family Law, Nesbitt, Allison

The Holiday Season is upon us. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, or another special occasion, the most wonderful time of the year is near! But what about those families who are coping with separated parents during the holiday season?

The holidays are usually filled with family, friends, lots of food, and endless joy, but for some separated parents – in particular, those who will be celebrating their first holidays this year since their separation – it can be a particularly stressful time. For instance, it may feel unimaginable not to have your children in your care for Christmas morning. This is a period of transition for the whole family and it is all about finding a balance and “new normal” around the holidays.

In the hopes of helping you minimize some of the possible anxiety and heightened tensions for this year’s holiday season, here are a few tips and considerations for co-parents organizing a holiday parenting schedule:

  1. Be prepared and ensure your holiday schedule is specified ahead of time. 
    Whether you have a holiday schedule set out in writing in your Separation Agreement or most recent court order, or no written holiday schedule exists, it is best to discuss holiday arrangements early with your co-parent. Specifically, you need to be clear on what dates and specific times the children will be in the care of each parent. You also need to be clear on how the children will travel between their parents. For example, the children will be with Mom from December 24th at noon until she drops them off at Dad’s house on December 25th at noon. The children will be with Dad until he returns the children to Mom’s house on December 26th at 8pm. The earlier these arrangements are discussed will help minimize the stress and risk of heighted conflict that often goes hand in hand with other tasks to complete around the holidays.
  2. If parents cannot agree upon a holiday schedule…
    Try to identify this issue early to allow parents time to negotiate a resolution either on their own, or through the assistance of a family mediator, or court.
  3. Respect your co-parent and their holiday traditions. 
    Some parents may prefer to have the children on Boxing Day because that is the day that they usually celebrate the holidays with their extended family. Some parents may prefer to have the children on Christmas Eve because that is when they traditionally go to mass with their extended family. If both parties are aware of these traditions and how it would likely benefit the children to continue these traditions with their extended family, then it may be best to plan your holiday schedule in accordance with maintaining these traditions. Parents should try to maintain the children’s holiday time spent with their grandparents and other extended family. Being open and honest with each other about what anticipated dates your extended family will be celebrating the holidays is important for both parents to consider.
  4. Be flexible, fair, and respectful of your co-parent’s time with the children. 
    Treat them how you would like them to treat you; if you remain civil and reasonable with them, it is more likely they will reciprocate with the same behaviour. Co-parents that are amicable with each other will help to minimize conflict and that is beneficial for your children’s development and it will help maintain the peace and love that your children regularly expect with the Holiday Season.
  5. Encourage your children to look forward to the holiday parenting time they will have with their other parent. 
    Children should be supported by both parents and need to know that each parent wants them to have fun with their other parent during the holidays. This will assist the children in developing a healthy relationship with both parents and cherishing their time together.
  6. Consider that a family separation also brings the opportunity to make new traditions with your child(ren). 
    Not everyone needs to celebrate the holidays on the same day. Santa can come to one parent’s house on December 25th and one parent’s house on December 26th. There is no reason that the holiday magic needs to be limited to one day alone. Avoid fighting with your ex over which day you have the children in your care, as it is the memories you make that the children will remember — not the day of the week.
  7. As long as there are no threats of violence or safety concerns, children should be given the opportunity to have equal amounts of time with both parents during the holidays. 
    It is most common for parents to trade-off holidays on alternating years so that each parent gets a turn to have the children on a specific day. If you had the children last Christmas morning, then it would be most fair to allow your ex to have the children for Christmas morning this year.
  8. Don’t try to compete for your children’s love with gifts.
    Sometimes you hear of one or both parents trying to buy their children’s love. If you have recently gone through a separation, then you are probably experiencing some type of financial hardship. It is important to realize that it is the quality time spent with your children and activities that matters. It is better to be realistic with your gifting budget and not try to one up the other parent for the sake of “winning”. The Holiday Season is not about winning or losing. It is about being reflective and thankful for all the good things and people you have in your life — including your children. If you have recently separated, it is important to continue to convey love and support to your children during this difficult transition time. Using your words and actions to demonstrate your love, rather than through giving material goods, will result in strengthening a more meaningful bond with your children and supporting their healthy development.
  9. Going to court for a determination of the holiday parenting time arrangements typically should be used only as a last resort option, unless there are threats of violence or safety concerns for either parent or the children.
    If parents have exhausted their options to try to negotiate a holiday schedule, then court may be the only option. In going to court, either parent has the ability to bring a motion in family court for a judge to make a final decision on holiday access. However, proceeding in this manner may not result in your desired outcome with respect to holiday time spent with your children. You will be forced to comply with the parenting schedule that is ordered by the court.

Should you have any questions or require assistance in navigating your holiday parenting schedule, Brown Beattie O’Donovan’s family law department would be happy to support you in making these arrangements either through negotiation, mediation services, and/or bringing a motion in family court.

We wish you peace and joy to you and your family during this Holiday Season!

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