The movies and tv portray the holidays as a joyful time of celebration, ritual, friends and family. Unfortunately, these can also be the darkest times for people, especially when their family situation has become intolerable, or a divorce or separation has already occurred. If this is the case, it’s important to take especially good care of yourself and your children. Depending on where you are in your relationship, here are some considerations.
Is now the time to move forward with a divorce or separation?
The failure of a relationship can feel particularly awful when everyone around seems to be having a good time together. Maintaining a good face for the children is increasingly difficult, and family traditions may feel hollow. But there are several reasons to consider waiting out the year before filing for divorce. First, the children will be challenged no matter when you make the move to separate or divorce, but you don’t want them to associate this transition with the holidays for the rest of their lives if possible. Second, there are tax implications in the timing of your divorce. Your filing status will be determined by your relationship status on December 31, so it may make a huge difference when you move forward. Finally, holidays are a busy time for people, and you may not be able to get the support you need from family and friends if you decide to move out or move on when they are focused on celebrations.
How should the holidays be handled in the custody agreement?
Maryland court rules require divorcing parents to consider the holidays as part of their co-parenting agreement. However, each family has its own, unique circumstances that parents should consider and then memorialize in the agreement so that they have recourse if the other parent isn’t complying. Questions like splitting the holidays (What days? What times?), alternating them (Which holidays?), and allowing or prohibiting the other parent from travelling with the children should be included. More specific questions like, drop-off times, religious services, and attending school events might need to be addressed if the split is really bitter. A fair, reasonable sharing of holidays with the other parent is better to plan for in the custody agreement instead of trying to negotiate this high-stakes issue every year at the same time.
What if the children don’t want to cooperate?
It happens. A child might be going through their own struggle, or they might be picking up on the tension between the parents and take sides. Either way, if a child doesn’t want to cooperate with the holiday arrangement, there are an escalating series of steps to take. First, try talking to the child, addressing their reluctance, and encouraging them to participate in the holidays with both parents. If that doesn’t work, then try working with the other parent to reach an accommodation. Maybe a younger child needs to spend the night with the primary parent and spend days visiting the other parent. If the parents cannot cooperate, use the custody agreement dispute resolution to help, or talk to a family law attorney about modifying the agreement to deal with the issue.
Is it OK to switch things up?
If the parents can agree, there’s nothing wrong with making exceptions for special events. So, if grandparents are only in town on the other parent’s days, offer to switch days, or exchange a dinner for another event, to allow the children to see them. This sort of compromise can help create a spirit of cooperation that can help when other situations come up. A one-time switch does not nullify the custody agreement.
If the holidays are presenting a particular co-parenting challenge, there are resources. An experienced family law attorney can provide advice or referrals to help fund solutions to most issues that come up.