Custody During the Holidays

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For parents who share custody of children, the holidays can add an extra layer of stress and conflict to an existing visitation schedule.  Here are some tips to minimize conflict and promote peaceful and enjoyable holidays, for children and parents alike.

  1. If you have a court order or contract (frequently called a “Separation Agreement”) concerning custody and visitation, review all provisions, word for word. The provisions may be very specific and address not only the timing of visitations, but also parental conduct and communication. And, while parents may have a regular visitation schedule during the year, it frequently changes over the holidays, to allow children to spend time with each parent. For instance, in even-numbered years, the children are with Mom on Christmas Eve, and Dad on Christmas Day; in odd-numbered years, it’s the opposite.
  2. Try to work out a schedule with the other parent in advance and be willing to compromise. Anticipating timing needs and issues before the holidays and discussing them calmly with the other parent may prevent last minute stress and conflict. Although not all separated parents have a court order or formal contract, these documents can be very important when unsolvable conflict arises. These orders and agreements help ensure that a child gets to enjoy holiday time with each parent and establish certain rules concerning parental communication and conduct, as well as remedies for serious violations.
  3. As a last resort, a parent can go to court to ask a judge to resolve the issues; however, the Court is unlikely to hear your dispute right away, as most family courts are booked with cases several months in advance. If the disputes with the other parent are likely to continue with other holidays, then a parent may consider consulting an attorney to discuss legal options to prevent future conflicts.

It is understandable that parents want to share holiday events and traditions with their children and create joyful memories. If there are disputes between parents, try hard not to involve your children in the conflict.  Finding ways to keep peace with the other parent during the holiday season could be the best present you give your kids—and yourself.