The holidays are here... almost.
Of course, depending on which store you've walked into lately, the holidays have been here for since July. I try not to let it bother me, but it's hard when they push it in your face when all you are looking for is a frying pan. I digress.
Thanksgiving marks the unofficial beginning of the holiday season with the end coming after New Years. This is a key time for anyone going through a divorce. It can take the normal stress you feel and raise it a few levels. That's if you have an attorney.
If you don't have an attorney and are representing yourself, then the holidays can be unbearable and one of the worst times of the year. This is assuming children are involved and there are custody issues. But, just because you are getting divorced doesn't mean the holidays have to be hard, for either parent.
One of the biggest problems people getting divorced deal with about getting through the holidays, with or without an attorney, is that they were not proactive and dealt with any issues well in advance of November. In order to put yourself in the best position to have a seamless holiday season, you should start dealing with it during the summer.
Get A Parenting Plan
It is in both parent's interests to agree on a parenting schedule that covers the entire year to avoid parenting time disputes, but at the very least you should have an agreement in place, in writing, that covers Thanksgiving through New Years.
This doesn't have to be hard, but it does take some effective communication and compromise on everyone's part to achieve. You don't need the court or attorneys to make a parenting plan. You just need agreement between you and your ex. Here are some tips on how to make it work.
1. Bring it up well in advance of the holiday. Don't wait for the last minute. That will only cause more drama. Divorce judges won't give you kisses for filing an emergency parenting time motion on the eve of Thanksgiving or Christmas. You really can't start planning early enough. If you can't agree on a parenting plan that is fair to both parents, then file a motion with the court well in advance of the holiday and the judge will decide and make a plan for you.
2. Be Reasonable and Fair. When coming up and negotiating a holiday parenting plan, remember that being stubborn, or a "hard ass" is not going to get you far. You can't have the children on all the holidays. Your ex will not agree to that and a judge will not order that. What most people end up doing and what courts often do is to alternate holidays. That way if mom has Thanksgiving this year, dad will have it next year. Same for the other holidays.
3. Be Flexible. The holidays are stressful, especially if you're hosting. You have family to deal with, lines in stores and holiday traffic. Things happen and the more flexible you are the better it will be. If one parent requests to modify the parenting plan, try to be reasonable and work with it. Sure, if the parenting agreement or court order states you get the children at 4:00 p.m., but your ex can't get them to you until 5:30, or 6:00, you can stomp your feet and call the police, or you can roll with it and try to work it out so you get more time on the back end of the schedule.
4. Focus On The Children. If you find that things are tensing up and you are getting into fights with your ex about the parenting schedule, try to focus on the children and make the experience as joyful and memorable for them as possible. The older they are, the more perceptive they become and they can sense what is going on. I'm not saying to give in to your ex and forget about the parenting plan you agreed to, but if a sacrifice on your end makes it a smooth and happy experience for the children, that's what is important. You can always file a motion with the court after the fact to address something that happened. Don't ruin the holidays for the children. They will remember it forever.
Jason Levoy, a/k/a The Divorce Resource Guy™, is an attorney who coaches people who can't afford an attorney how to represent themselves in their divorce with integrity and confidence. Check out his free divorce guide with negotiation tactics used by top divorce attorneys to settle divorces.