Dealing with Christmas Games

For millions of Americans, Christmas is simply the most wonderful time of the year. But if you are in the middle of a divorce or child-custody modification, you may have discovered tha
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Christmas is finally here. For millions of Americans, Christmas is simply the most wonderful time of the year. But if you are in the middle of a divorce or child-custody modification, you may have discovered that reindeer aren't the only ones who are playing games:

1.Perhaps you just received an "Ex-text" informing you for the first time that the kids are heading out-of-state for Christmas with their dad and his new girlfriend; or

2.Maybe it is your year to have the children for the holidays but the other parent has asked you to switch periods and has already told the little ones that they can all go snow skiing -- but only *if* you allow them to go; or

3.The courts have already closed and the lawyers have failed to work out a temporary arrangement for this holiday season.

Examples like these have spoiled more than one Christmas dinner in recent years. If you find yourself without the kids this year because of your ex's gamesmanship, how should you respond? What should you do?

Of course, you always have the typical litigation option: File a motion, set a hearing, and make 'em pay for stealing Christmas. But before you do that you might consider taking a step back and thinking for a moment about what your overall long-term goals are for your children.

Most parents genuinely want to protect their children from the worst aspects of divorce and post-divorce life. What many fail to recognize, however, is how quickly they allow themselves to step onto the Crazy Cycle with the other parent over one issue or another. Whether the issue is about taking a trip with the girlfriend or trying to manipulate a possession schedule, once the parents step onto the Crazy Cycle, they lose sight of the greater injury they are inflicting on their own children. The parents have just placed the children squarely at the epicenter of the conflict. Divorce litigation usually makes bad situations like these worse, because litigation enables, and even encourages, adversarial conflict. Parents usually don't recognize that fact until the damage has already been done.

Whatever the outcome of the particular issue or the judicial punishments that follow, the kids wind up with the lumps of coal in their stockings. And regardless of whether the children actually witness the argument(s) between the parents, they will be impacted -- because you, the parent, have been impacted. Unfortunately for the kids, they will bear those emotional scars long after you have forgotten about the issue that started the conflict.

If your goal for the children really is to minimize their exposure to the harmful effects of divorce, consider developing a new, more effective set of communication skills in dealing with your ex. There is no quick fix or magic pill, of course. It will be a process.

Counseling can help those not currently involved in litigation. But for those in the midst of family law litigation, the Collaborative Law approach focuses on resolving family conflict in a respectful way while shielding the children from it. By design, this approach enables couples to communicate more effectively, both during the process, and afterward.

With time, patience, and practice, you and the other parent can learn to avoid the Crazy Cycle, stop playing games that hurt the children, and start truly co-parenting.

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