The festive season is meant to be a time of joy and celebration for the family, but it can also be a time of stress and worry if divorced or separated parents have shared custody of their children.
When emotions are running high, couples often fight about which parent should have the children for the school holidays or a special day, such as Christmas.
Against this backdrop, parents who have separated should try and set aside their own emotions and consider what is best for the children.
If possible, it is best to avoid the bad feeling and high costs of taking a dispute about which parent will host the kids on Christmas Day to the courts.
In that spirit the parents should try to negotiate an agreement about how you will share your child’s time far in advance of the festive season.
Be ready to compromise so that your child will have a joyful holiday season rather than one that he or she will remember for its tensions and family feuding.
To understand your rights as a parent, the first document you should consult is the parental plan that you and your ex-spouse would have reached when you formally concluded your divorce.
This court order will set out the arrangements for child custody, including the sharing of the child’s holiday time.
If you are just in the process of getting divorced, it is advisable to think about how you and your ex will share the child’s birthday and holidays as you draft the parental plan.
No two families are the same - depending on your circumstances, each parent might want to have the child for half a day on Christmas or rather decide that each parent should spend the full day with the child alternate years.
Plan where the child will be during the holiday season day by day - for example Mom gets Easter, Dad gets Christmas Eve, Mom gets Christmas, Dad gets New Year, and so on.
The important thing is that each parent and the children should be happy with the agreement that is reached.
It is also important for the agreement to be realistic - don’t plan the festive season so that the child is spending more time in a car or plane travelling than enjoying the company of his or her family.
If the parents decide to change the details of the parental plan for any reason, it is advisable to record the changes in writing and perhaps even ask an attorney to review them.
This will avoid later disputes and set a pattern of give and take that will be better for everyone in the long term.
So what can you do if your ex is unwilling to be reasonable in sharing the child’s holiday time with you?
Then you must point him or her to the court order. If your former spouse breaks the terms of your child visitation schedule and will not compromise, you should contact an attorney for help in enforcing the agreement.
But let's hope that is not necessary. Though the festive season can be fraught with stress and hurt for the family after the breakup of a marriage, clear-headed, open communication and compromise can help avoid unnecessary legal complications and the pain they can cause.
Things might not be the same as when the whole family was together, but you can create new traditions and a pattern of fairness and sharing that ensure happy holidays for all.
Here are some tips for to make shared custody during the holiday season a little simpler:
- If possible let your children spend New Year with the parent who did not have them for Christmas.
- Ensure that your children are dropped off and fetched on time.
- You could have an early Christmas lunch or function with the children to allow the other parent to also spend time with them on this special day, the same goes for New Year.
- Don’t make your children feel guilty for not spending Christmas with you - that will ruin their Christmas.