In a recent post on Avvo’s Naked Law Blog (click here to view), I discussed the effect of divorce on children and offered some tips on how to deal with custody in light of a separation and/or divorce.  Issues regarding custody become magnified during holiday time.  After all, children bring magic to the holidays.  And both parents want to share the holidays with their children.  Also, holiday time is a time when we visit extended family and engage in longstanding family traditions.

As a result of these factors, unfortunately, holiday time often becomes a time when parties battle over the custody of their children.  Holidays become a time when parties can use the children to exert power over each other or attempt to avenge a wrong.  I have spent many holidays fielding phone calls from distraught clients whose holiday plans were ruined because the other party refused to cooperate with a predetermined or even Court Ordered custody schedule.

Clearly, no one wins when the children are used as pawns during the holidays.  However, there can be so much animosity and hurt feelings between parents who were previously married or in an intimate relationship that they lose sight of what is best for their children.

Children need both parents and both parents need to spend quality time with their children.  While it is difficult to share holiday time, with some cooperation and communication, this can be done successfully.  It is true that some holiday traditions may need to be reworked (or delayed) to accomplish this, but kids are very resilient and are often are happy to enjoy numerous celebrations.  It is also important for the children’s well-being to spend time with extended family, especially if that has been part of their upbringing.  Denying children time with aunts, uncles and grandparents is simply not productive.  However, it is also not productive if the extended family use their time with the children to simply bad mouth the other parent no matter how angry they may feel toward that party.

To make the holidays happy for everyone, parents are advised to make the children their priority and try to set aside their bad feelings toward each other.  If they think about the holidays from the perspective of the kids (rather than themselves) they are apt to make smart decisions about custody.  To the extent that parties can agree on a custody schedule that works for their family and not rely on a Judge to make a random decision, they are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.  If parties are not able to communicate directly with one another to accomplish a workable schedule, they can use their attorneys and/or a neutral third party to guide them in the right direction.  To the extent that each party spends holiday time with their children they are wise to have a discussion with extended family before the celebration to advise them that bad mouthing the other parent in front of the children will simply not be tolerated.

The holidays come and go in a matter of weeks.  However, in the eyes of a child, the holidays are monumental.  Each year is important and each year should be memorable in a positive way.  It is up to the parents to make the holidays special for their kids, and this can be accomplished despite parental discord.  To summarize, set your differences aside, plan early,  keep family traditions and celebrations in mind and allow the children to enjoy time with both parents and extended family.  If these tips are followed, the holidays can be happy.