How to Handle Christmas After Divorce – Part One

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For many children, Christmas is a magical time, filled with presents, time off from school, and time spent with friends and family. For many parents, Christmas helps turn some of the chaos of the world off for a while and focus on gratitude and loved ones.

But for other children and parents, Christmas becomes a source of anxiety, arguing, frustration and disappointment – all because of divorce. But divorce need not ruin the holidays, it just takes a bit of effort, forethought and compromise. In this post, we will discuss solutions to custody concerns, while in our next post we look at religious traditions and joint celebrations.

Typically, parenting plans take the winter break – the time from the last day of school in December until the return to school in January – as either a time to divide in half and alternate every other year, or simply to alternate the entire time every other year. Obviously, this leaves one parent “out in the cold” every other winter.

To get around the default split, parents should first think about how they have celebrated the holidays during the marriage. Did you celebrate by traveling to one family’s parents? Did you host your whole family? Did you keep it small and personal? By identifying your own history, you can highlight which parts of the holiday may mean more to one parent and try to address it.

The easiest solution is where one parent essentially had the holiday, whether to visit family out of town or simply because that parent spent the most time preparing for and celebrating the holiday. In this case, the time around Christmas can go to that parent, and the time before or after can go to the other parent for break.

But what happens when both parents have some attachment to or history with Christmas? At this point, the easiest option is to divide Christmas into a two day holiday, one that starts on Christmas Eve and extends to Christmas morning, and one that begins Christmas morning and runs through the rest of the day. If one parent prefers one “day” over the other, allocate that day to that parent. If both parents cannot decide or want both, the parents can agree to alternate who has the first “day” and who the next every other year. In this way, each parent gets time with the children on Christmas, can exchange presents and not feel slighted.

If one parent lives out of town, Christmas becomes a bit trickier. In this situation, if the holiday is very important to both parents, the parents should look into travel options that would allow an exchange on Christmas morning. If that is not possible, the fall back tends to be alternating who has Christmas every other year.

Similarly, if one parent tends to travel to be with family on Christmas, an exchange on Christmas morning might work, otherwise the parents will have to alternate years.

Remember that Christmas fits into a larger winter break, and that should be considered in dividing time. If both parents want to take trips, one parent can have the first half, the other parent the second half, with the exchange on Christmas day. If the parents plan to stay in town, it may make sense to split Christmas but otherwise keep to the same custody schedule to minimize disruption for the children.

In the end, no one plan can fit every family. Each family should think about what works best to give the children a great holiday experience with minimal conflict and upheaval and maximum quality time with each parent and each set of extended families.

If you have questions about Christmas and divorce, contact us – we can help.