As the holidays approach, it is not surprising that old clients start coming out of the woodwork. After all, this is the high point of the year for couples who have split up to quibble or even battle over custody arrangements. Most parenting plans have predicted these problems and provide exacting details including the “who, what, when and where.” However, as we have seen over the past two years, things change and unanticipated opportunities present themselves. During this stressful and often chaotic time, parents should focus their energy on creating happy holiday memories with their kids and not turning to litigation to settle disagreements.
It’s All About the Kids
In addition to adhering to the terms of their legal arrangement, parents should work hard to set aside their differences and keep their own stress and anxiety out of their children’s holiday experiences. Here are some steps parents can take to avoid conflict during the holidays:
- Put the children first: It is likely children will want to spend meaningful time with both parents during the holidays. By amicably making a schedule work, parents can ease their kids’ stress, even if they are breaking with family holiday traditions and celebrating in two different households for the first time.
- Agree and commit to a sharing schedule: If a custody agreement does not nail down the specifics, it is important that well ahead of time a precise holiday custody schedule be agreed upon and put into writing, especially if one of the parents plans includes making flight arrangements. Details should include days, times and locations. The schedule should be shared with the kids so they know what to expect and are not caught off guard when they need to transition from one parent to the other.
- Be respectful: Once a written schedule is in place, parents should make every effort to stick to it. Little else can cause anger and resentment as when one parent doesn’t show up at the designated time or location, one asks to change the schedule without notice, or one disregards the schedule altogether. Neither parent wants their plans, with and without the children, affected by the other’s inconsiderate behavior.
- Maintain a degree of flexibility: Things rarely go exactly as planned, especially during the holidays. Scenarios such as heavy traffic or a delayed flight can affect the exact terms of the schedule. If parents set an expectation for themselves and their children ahead of time and leave a little padding around their plans, they can reduce their anxiety and frustration when things deviate from the plan. If a parent does encounter a delay, they should immediately call, apologize, own up to their disruption and offer to give the other parent “make-up” time with the children.
- Be positive and supportive: Even if parents don’t care for their ex-in-laws, their ex-spouse’s new partner, a new holiday tradition, etc., it is important for the parents to be non-judgmental. Parents need to remember that they no longer have a say in how their ex will celebrate the holidays with the kids (unless of course those plans infringe on a separation agreement or a divorce decree), so they should keep any negativity to themselves. Showing the children enthusiasm and support for whatever the other parent has planned will help the kids not feel guilty about splitting their time between parents – making a more enjoyable holiday season for all.
Using Mediation to Work Out the Details
If your client and their ex find themselves unable to agree on a holiday custody schedule, the creative process of mediation may help them reach a resolution. My six years of exclusive divorce mediation and 18 years of litigation have made me an expert at developing creative solutions to overcome impasses and settle disputes amicably and expeditiously. With the holidays right around the corner, now is the time for parents to work through and finalize their plans, and I am here to help.