We all know getting a divorce can often be a traumatic experience for all parties, especially when there are young children involved. When you and your ex-spouse establish joint custody of your kids, schedules and agreements can be tricky on the best of days. They can be even more emotional and complicated around the holidays. If this is your first holiday season living apart from your ex, you may find that unanticipated issues arise regarding access and communication. Given all the media pressure to have a perfect, family-friendly season of warmth, love and harmony, children may not understand why their mother or father isn’t at home for another cherished holiday ritual. They may also be confused by how or why they’re spending their vacations from school in two homes, either in London or elsewhere.
For these reasons, setting up a clear parenting plan that articulates the basics of custody over the holidays (and other special events, including birthdays, pageants, trips, and so forth) is one way to end a tumultuous year with happier memories. After a less-than-pleasant divorce, or in cases where hasty deals were made, sometimes clear rules and boundaries are not set concerning all special occasions.
Know that a qualified expert in family law—a lawyer with experience in mediation and arbitration—can prove to be an invaluable resource. They can help make dealings with your ex-spouse and complex legal agreements smoother, less stressful and more effective. Any professional lawyer will remind you from the onset that you should consider scenarios that work best for your children first and foremost. Make sure you ask your kids how they’d like to spend their winter vacation, and don’t let your own interests cloud what’s best for them.
Remember to try for a fair and reasonable resolution to the issue—there are going to have to be special accommodations made for special circumstances. One common scenario for families is to schedule custody around children’s school obligations, dividing their two or three weeks’ worth of holidays in half. That means deciding where children spend important days like Christmas Eve or Day, the beginning or end of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, and so forth is done well in advance.
A common decision is to alternate where the children spend the special day each year, but again, this requires careful planning. To make things as transparent as possible, it’s a good idea to establish a firm mutual calendar, either online or in print, and to avoid making last minute plans as much as possible—no spontaneous decisions to travel, relocate or do something markedly different than what’s been agreed upon.
Other questions will naturally arise involving contact. Make sure you agree upon how much your ex-spouse is entitled to telephone or Skype contact over the holidays. He or she may want to speak with the kids or wish them well while apart, but this might not be clearly articulated in your regular contact agreement. Will extra allowances be okay on a certain day? If one parent usually takes the children to school events, plays, and pageants, but is not in custody of the children during a particular year’s event, should the parent with the children attend the function? Can both parents attend? If one parent lives far away, are travel costs sorted out in a mutually satisfactory manner? Will the children’s itinerary, travel information and contact information be available at all times while they are away? Who will be responsible for passport updates and fees?
For those new to the experience of shared custody, this is a lot to take in and consider. That’s why part of your plan should cover how unforeseen issues and disputes—if any—will be resolved. Deciding ahead of time who will mediate, where in the city it will take place and how fees will be shared will make your new life of separation one that doesn’t cause further rifts and hostility.
A great idea moving forward is to schedule regular custody meetings that allow you a chance to review how your plan is working for all involved. No parents want their children to have a negative experience around the holidays — find a professional family lawyer, and you’ll be able to make special events stay that way. Help your kids remember the holidays for the right reasons, and seek the help of a mediator today.