The holidays are stressful enough, but if you add a divorce or separation into the mix, it can become pure chaos. Between my clerkship and private practice, this upcoming holiday season will be my tenth year experiencing the inevitable turmoil and tribulation these “festivities” impose upon individuals and the congested Court system. In light of my experience, I will relay three key pieces of advice I believe are important to consider in striving for a smooth holiday season.
Be Prepared: Do not - I repeat, DO NOT wait until the last minute to address any concerns regarding the holiday schedule. If you have not memorialized your schedule in writing, if the schedule is vague or you are seeking to modify the schedule, this conversation should initially take place several months before the holiday in question. In the absence of an agreement, it may be necessary to file a motion and obtain an Order from the Court but again, this should occur months prior to the holiday in question. The Court does not appreciate and often, does not accept the issue of holiday parenting time to be “emergent” and thus, may decline to address it if brought to their attention on the eve of a holiday. Furthermore, the delay in resolving the holiday schedule may cause hardship in purchasing plane tickets, finalizing vacation plans or planning a celebration. In addition to consulting with an attorney or discussing this issue with your current counsel, it may also be helpful to explore outside resources, such as self-help books. Between Amazon and a good ol’ Google search, there are a plethora of reading materials. I recently discovered a book dedicated solely to this topic - check out Celebrating in the Neutral Zone: A Holiday Survival Guide for Families of Divorce by Randi Lundell. I haven't read this book, but based on the summary, it appears to be very interesting and informative.
Find Support: While the holidays tend to be regarded as joyous occasions, it should come as no surprise that for many individuals these times trigger depression, sadness, anxiety and loneliness. This is particularly true of those going through turmoil, such as a divorce or the first time holidays are being spent without the child(ren). It is important to keep in mind that: (a) you will get through this; and (b) you are not alone. In fact, support groups for those involved in a divorce or separation have long existed and are an invaluable resource to many individuals. More recently, however, support groups have been created to exclusively address how to cope and plan the holidays following a divorce. I would strongly encourage any individual experiencing a change in their family dynamic to seek and accept the support of family, friends and others in a similar position as your own.
Create New Traditions: Following a divorce or separation, it is unlikely that every tradition observed while a family is an intact will continue after a divorce. If you are unable to continue a holiday tradition, such as spending every Christmas at Grandma’s house in Florida, it is worthwhile to consider creating “new” ways to celebrate the holiday. These new ways will inevitably become “traditions” in the mind of your children. If the childred are of an appropriate age and emotional state, I recommend allowing them to partake in brainstorming and discussions surrounding the creation of a new tradition.
Oftentimes, we find that divorced parties (who we didn’t initially represent) didn’t properly address the details of a holiday schedule (transportation, time, drop offs, etc.) in their divorce agreements. It is important to ensure you have a capable, diligent and detailed-oriented attorney from the beginning who could prevent the “holiday madness” that is sometimes associated with divorced families. If you’d like to schedule a consultation with an attorney to at least review your initial agreement for any red flags, call Ruvolo Law Group to schedule a consultation.