The holiday season can be a challenging time for separated or divorced families. While parents are always encouraged to take a child-focused approach in making holiday arrangements, it may be worthwhile to consider taking take a balanced approach instead. Let us consider what the festive period may feel like from the perspective of the children, the parent who has the children, and the parent who may not get the children. If it’s the first holiday season after a separation or divorce, it is definitely important to make sure the children aren’t subjected to the issues that the parents may still be sorting out. In this regard, it would be optimal to work out a holiday visitation schedule as a part of the child care custody arrangements. Not being able to see both parents during the holidays may make upset children or lead them to believe that the parent who is not there doesn’t care or want to spend time with them. At a minimum, it would be wise for both parents to take the time to reassure the children that they are loved by both parents, even if one parent may not be physically be there during the actual holiday celebrations. Given that we live in a technologically advanced world, it is possible for the parent who is not able to physically participate in the celebrations to connect with their children digitally through Facetime or Skype.
Similarly, it will be an adjustment period for both parents. For the parent who does have the children, they may experience some difficulties in managing the children and attending to all the related festivities including the various holiday customs, parties, school events, extended-family visits and travel. As a result, the festive season may end up being a hectic and stressful time instead of one of relaxation and enjoyment with family and friends. For the parent who doesn’t get to see the children over the Christmas and New Year period, it can be a very lonely and depressing time. So, if you are a parent who finds themselves in this scenario, it would be helpful to keep yourself distracted and busy through the holidays by planning a trip during this time or spending Christmas with other family and friends. The ideal arrangement would be for both parents to spend some time during the holiday with the children. Perhaps one parent has the children over Christmas and the other parent can get the children over New Year. Furthermore, the parents could arrange to swap holidays in alternative years so that parent who didn’t get to spend Christmas with their children one year can do so the following year, while the other parent gets New Year.
Each family will find their own way of celebrating the holidays. Some of the more common holiday arrangements that divorcees adopt include celebrating two Christmases, alternating holiday years, and if they are still on good terms, the option of spending Christmas together. Children will love the two Christmases option. However, it is financially draining on parents to select this method, unless both are well-off and can afford to do this. For the parents who are financially mismatched, it can make the parent who doesn’t have the resources feel inadequate because they can’t afford to celebrate Christmas at the same level that the children were used to. Or worse, it can create a competitive culture among the parents which forces them to try and out-do one another through gifts, parties, food and decorations.
If the parents are choosing to spend alternative years with the children, then it is best to make sure this is planned as far in advance as possible. This will ensure the parent who doesn’t get the children can make alternate holiday plans so that they are not alone and for both parents to make travel plans for the children – Christmas is a notoriously expensive time to travel on our railways and the roads are invariably packed. As well, the parents should take into account whether allowing the spending of the holidays with one parent for an extended time causes the other parent to miss a scheduled contact period that they would have been otherwise been entitled to. If this is the case, perhaps the parents can agree to resume the visitation schedule where it was left prior to the holidays commencing to ensure that the parent gets access to their children as early as they can in the New Year.
Finally, spend time together as a whole family during Christmas is also an option that some co-parents may be able to pull off. It may sound unusual but parents who have managed to work out amicable co-parenting arrangements may be able to celebrate Christmas together with their children, extended family members and even invite new spouses or partners to the mix as well. This is probably the least likely scenario but in order for it to work, the adults have to make a conscientious effort to remain civil with each other for the benefit of the children.
In the 21st century, the traditional family structure has changed but that doesn’t mean the meaning of the holiday season has to. Families can still find ways to make the season a relaxing, fun and memorable one for everyone. No parent should feel alone during Christmas because they can still be a part of the celebrations, even if it means digitally or on a different day.
If you need any assistance regarding child custody, access or visitation arrangements, please speak to a Grayfords specialist who can advise you help you reach a fair and amicable solution.
by Pooja Sihra
Pooja is a guest blogger for Grayfords. Pooja is an international, post-graduate LLB candidate studying at City University London. She received her BA (Hon.) in Law and Society/Sociology in 2009 as well as a Master’s in Public Policy, Administration and Law in 2013 from York University in Toronto, Canada. Her interest in family law developed after navigating the challenges of acting as an estate trustee without a will in a family matter.