Most parents want to spend the holidays with their children. But when a couple divorces, the holidays are split between the two new households. Custody disputes have the potential to ruin the seasonal spirit of joy for both you and your children. Here are some potential holiday child custody disputes to plan for, as well as some tips on how to avoid them:
- Immediately determine the holiday arrangement: The best way to avoid last-minute conflict is to have a parenting plan in place. This is a written agreement between both parents, and, ideally, should prevent further disputes. If a dispute arises, look back at your custody arrangement details. If you have custody for a particular holiday, remind your ex-spouse that this arrangement is in place. If you are having trouble communicating, it is always helpful to use email so that you have a written record of your requests. Keep all emails professional and neutral in tone, avoid name-calling at all costs. After the holiday, if you're unhappy with the current arrangement, call your family law attorney.
- Get clearance before traveling with your children: If you are planning to take your children out of town, perhaps to visit relatives in a different part of the country, be sure to discuss your plans with your ex-spouse before leaving town with your children. Let them know where you will be traveling to, and confirm that telephone contact will be available with the children. Most custody agreements will permit you to take your children out of town, but if you plan to leave the country, you will need the permission of your former spouse.
- Agree on gifts: Disputed gifts can be a source of a lot of stress during the holidays. If your ex asks you not to buy a particular gift but you do so anyway, an argument could ensue. To avoid this, have a conversation with your ex-spouse about major gifts you (and your ex) plan to purchase for your children.
- Compromise if possible: Try to compromise by making an arrangement with the other parent. Letting your children share time with both parents is healthy at any time of the year, but especially during the holidays when distant family is often nearby and emotions are high. There are a number of approaches parents can take to splitting holiday time. A common approach is to alternate years, where the holidays are spent with one parent in odd years and the other parent during even years. This is an easy compromise, and an approach that is favored by many parents. However, this does often leave one parent without the children for an important holiday. If a specific holiday (often a religious celebration) is important to both of you, some parents may choose to split the day. If you and your ex-spouse live near one another, your children can to experience the important holidays with both of their parents.
Remember to give yourself enough time make all arrangements and be sure you both understand them. Once you have a plan in place, stick with it no matter what. If a dispute arises, make every effort to resolve it without creating a tense atmosphere for your children.
Decisions related to child custody are generally not easy to make, and when it involves splitting important events between parents, it can be even more contentious. If your child's other parent refuses to cooperate with the stated child custody agreement or isn't willing to compromise, keep detailed track of your communications (remember, documenting your requests in writing and email is preferable to texts) and contact your family law attorney.