Holiday Custody Issues

December 23, 2017

The holidays are typically a joyous time spent with family, but following a divorce or separation, the idea of not being able to spend every minute with your children can put a damper on your holiday spirit.

Speaking from experience, Christmas with your children following a divorce doesn’t have to be that different.  And more importantly, both you and your children will make it through just fine!

Here are a few tips that may help to make this an easier transition for both parents and kids.

  1. Don’t dwell on the fact that your time with the kids is limited.

Most couples split the Christmas holiday so that one parent has the children Christmas Eve through Christmas morning, with the kids at some point on Christmas day going to the other parent’s house.  The holiday tends to be a little easier for the parent having the kids Christmas morning, as you get to experience the magic in their eyes as they wake up and see that Santa came while they were sleeping.  It’s important to remember that the other parent is missing out on this experience.  To make the transition to the other house a little easier for everyone, remind the kids that Santa came to the other parent’s house too.  But most importantly, enjoy the time that you have with them, and try not to make them feel sad or guilty when it’s time for them to leave.

  1. Keep in mind that not only is your time with the kids cut short, but they also have to leave one parent, and their new presents.

It’s important to realize that not only will the kids holiday be split in two, but they will likely have to open their presents and then leave shortly after without being able to play and really enjoy them.  And while the kids will probably want to take a new toy along with them, try to discourage this and make sure all new toys stay with you.  You don’t want their time at the other parent’s house to be overshadowed by something they got from you.  Instead, remind them that there will be presents and new toys at the other parent’s house too, and that their toys will be waiting for them when they get back.

  1. Don’t use the Holidays as an opportunity to try to one-up the other parent.

It’s often the case in divorce that one parent is a bit more comfortable financially than the other.  If you happen to be the one in the better position, don’t intentionally go crazy on presents as a way of trying to look better than the other parent.  And never do anything to undermine the other parent’s ability to provide for or be a good parent.

  1. Talk to your kids and explain what will happen over the holidays so that there aren’t any unnecessary surprises.

Always keep in mind that, while this is hard on you, it’s going to be even harder on the kids.  If they know in advance that they will be going to both houses, it may help alleviate some of the stress on them.  They may feel guilty about having fun without the other parent or if they like their presents at one house more than at the other.  Listen to them and let them know that this is okay.  If they seem to be a bit stressed or upset about having to jump from one house to the next, tell them how much fun they will have and that mom or dad can’t wait to spend their Christmas time with them.  And, if things aren’t going well, you can always point out the fact that Santa now brings them presents to two houses instead of just one!

  1. Teenagers may have a harder time dealing with the changes, so pay close attention, and be available to talk honestly with them.

It’s important to recognize that teenagers probably know more about what is going on than you think.  Not only does a divorce or separation mean a change in the amount of time with each parent, but it may also affect their social life.  I’ve found that the most important thing for a smooth transition for teens is to make sure that they don’t lose their identity in the process.  Understand how important it is for them to have time with their friends, and, even though your time with them during Christmas break may be cut short, it’s important to allow them to have their time with their friends too.  If you are honest with them up front about this, they are more likely to be able to enjoy the time you share.  And they can be a big help in easing the transition for younger siblings, too!

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the divorce is in no way the children’s fault and neither parent should do anything that may cause them to feel otherwise.  And, if both parents work together, it can and will be a wonderful holiday for all involved.  Happy Holidays!

Kathleen Krafft Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University and regularly advises individuals on legal matters related to family law and domestic relations issues.