Planning Holidays After a Divorce

Divorce_HolidaysParenting as a single parent during the holidays can be tough.

Some advance planning will save you from some of the holiday stress, however.  In our practice, we find that a well thought out holiday parenting plan, including exchange times for the children, is key to having holiday parenting go smoothly.   Children also appreciate knowing where they are going to be on any given holiday.  Structure is especially important for younger children and teens.  Even if you basically agree to share holidays and there’s no disagreement, you will want to establish a plan well in advance (say, in October for the Thanksgiving holiday and December for the Christmas and Hanukkah Holidays) so that everyone else in your lives can make plans, too.

If you won’t be with your children on an important holiday, be sure to make plans for yourself well in advance. For example, if you wake up on Thanksgiving Day alone, with no plans for the holiday, you could face a long, lonely day when everyone else is with family or friends and most stores and restaurants are closed for these popular holidays.  Treat yourself to something to look forward to while the children are with the other parent during holidays.  It’s important that your children don’t feel sorry for you being alone on holidays, too, so if they know that you are happy and taken care of that will also free them up to enjoy their holiday with the other parent.

Holidays with Multiple Celebration Days:

Some holidays, like Christmas, Easter and Passover have 2 celebration days.  For example, “Christmas” can be divided up into two holidays Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, “Easter” may be divided with Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and the Passover may be divided with first night Seder and second night Seder.  Other holidays, like Halloween, are also celebrated during the season with parties and events in addition to the actual date. While one day might be more widely celebrated, the second day also gives the other parent an opportunity to be involved in the holiday each year, even if he or she doesn’t have the “primary” day in that particular year.

Federal Holidays

In the case of Federal holidays, which are generally celebrated on a Monday, many parents elect to extend the previous weekend by 24 hours.  Also, if only one parent has off from work on the Federal holiday(s), it may also make for a natural extension of time.

Children’s Birthday Holidays:

Children’s birthdays may or may not supercede the regular parenting plan.  Some parents prefer to give each parent the opportunity to see the child on his or her birthday, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Other parents split the birthday with the actual day to one parent, and the following Saturday or Sunday to the other parent for the birthday party, alternating each year.  Talking in advance about whether you’ll invite each other, both extended families, and/or new partners to the child’s party, and how you’ll handle the stress surrounding this mix of relatives and friends, can make the event go more smoothly.

Alternating Holidays Each Year:  Many parents alternate holidays, with one parent having a holiday in even-numbered years, and the other having the children in odd-numbered years.  Or, if one family has a special event held each year (e.g., Uncle Fred’s 4th of July Picnic), one parent may have the children on that holiday each year and the other parent has the children on another holiday each year. This allows you to create family traditions that are repeated each year.

Parent Birthdays:  Many parents elect to use the following language:  At the birthday parent’s option:  children are with the birthday parent or with the other parent with 48 hours’ notice to the other parent.

Diana Mercer, Esq. is a pioneer in the field of divorce mediation and founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services in Los Angeles, California. Mercer is also the co-author of Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce.

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