The holidays are a special time of the year, both for children and their parents. But there are times when the traditional family unit cannot be maintained for the holidays, and one of those times is when parents have become separated. This can be a difficult time for all involved — for the children who must adjust to not spending time with both of their parents, to the parents who are sometimes facing larger, more abstract concerns, like will this separation turn into a contested divorce.
Within this complicated situation, holiday plans are still being made, and it falls on the parents to decide how to move forward. Unlike divorced parents, where courts and mediators have established custody agreements for the holidays, separated parents mostly have to sort out this situation on their own.
The first concern you should have is what would the children prefer. Would your children be okay splitting up visits, or would they prefer it if both parents could put aside their issues for the sake of holiday traditions? This stage of your separation will be difficult to navigate on your own, so it might be best to defer to your children’s wishes. The children might even ask for something as simple as a phone call or a Zoom meeting throughout the days (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), and it should be easy to accommodate that.
If both parents think it would be possible to have a shared holiday with the family intact, then it might be worth attempting. If the separated parents can set aside their issues, turning their focus towards the children’s enjoyment, there are a number of benefits for the children. The parents will know whether or not this separation will lead to a divorce, but by setting a peaceful and positive tone on this holiday can help make the transition into the next stage of your relationship easier. More importantly, the children will have a better time, not just because you are all together, but also because you both made the choice to act in their best interest.
It might be necessary to make some creative changes to your holidays if you both acknowledge that getting together for the holidays is an impossibility. The good news is that there is plenty of precedent to follow. If you have a few weeks before the holidays start, have a discussion with your co-parent to strategize. Some concerns you may have involve splitting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the possibility of out of state travel, and time with extended family.
Splitting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Many couples, both separated and divorced, mark each of these days by certain hours for visitation. One strategy is to mark Christmas Eve as starting on December 24th at 11 AM, ending on December 25th at 11 AM. Christmas Day, then, would start at 11 AM on the 25th, and ending on the 26th at 11 AM. Following this strategy, each parent will have an equal number of hours with the children and will have some time spent with them on both days. It may also be the case that one parent makes a bigger deal out of Christmas Eve, so this arrangement can be enjoyable for them.
Negotiating travel plans
It may be the case that travel plans figured largely in your traditional holiday plans, and this would be the year that you are 1) the one with the travel plans, or 2) the one who will be staying in place for the first time. Once again it might be good to defer to the children’s wishes. If travelling for Christmas has been important for them, especially if it involves seeing family out of state, then you should do what you can to please them. If you remain separated from your spouse for another year, or if you end up divorced, then you should treat the second year as one where the children will stay in place.
Time with extended family
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins make up families too, and are often just as important to the creation of holiday memories. At the same time, these visits can chip away at the time you have with your children, if proper arrangements are not made. If you have done the work of dividing custody, like splitting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, then you will know how much time you have with your children individually, and with the extended family.
With a little work, and a lot of consideration of the wishes of others, your period of separation does not have to mean an end to your family’s ability to enjoy Christmas. Keep your children in mind, do your best to have your own sense of peace and joy, and consider consulting with a local divorce attorney in Montgomery.
Attorney Steven A. Harris regularly blogs in the areas of family law, bankruptcy, probate, and real estate closings on this website. Mr. Harris tries to provide informative information to the public in easily digestible formats. Hopefully you enjoyed this article and feel free to supply feedback. We appreciate our readers & love to hear from you!