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Margie Ellisor: Attorney Jonathan Marks with The Marks Law Firm joining us this morning to talk a little bit more about–this is some solutions to bring that magic alive once again this time of year. Good morning.

Jonathan Marks: Good morning, Margie.

ME: Yeah, and some of this maybe that you should’ve already done, but let’s talk custody anyway in case they’re kind of saying, “gosh, you know, who’s the child going to go with.” First off, don’t let the child pick which parent they want to spend the holidays with.

JM: No. So if you’re separated and don’t already have a parenting plan that’s in place from a divorce, the first thing you really need to do is, even if you’re not getting along with your soon-to-be former spouse, you need to get together and figure out what you’re going to do so there’s no confusion for the kids. The last thing you want to do is then go and ask the kids exactly who they prefer to be with because that’s putting the kid right in the middle of the situation. So plan ahead, figure out what the festivities are going to be, which parent is going to have custody over certain periods of time, and have an agreement that everybody is following through on so the kids see that the parents are working together.

ME: Kids probably have a Christmas list of things that they want. How do you decide what gift each parent is going to give the child?

JM: Well, the most important thing you want to make sure doesn’t happen is that one parent is over-gifting the other parent. Because again, you’re sending a signal to the children that, you know, they’re going to get what they want if they go to mom, or if they go to dad, and there’s always going to be this power balance going forward. And the kids pick up on it right away and along with it, it becomes an issue in court. I mean, you know, somebody thinks that they’re buying the custody of their kids. So as a result of it, again, try to think about things as you would if you were still married and together within the household. Maybe come to an agreement where you’re going to jointly pick up one particular special gift for your kids and then go from there. If you want to take them out and do something special on your own individual time, that would be great. But don’t send a message that the parents are not on the same plane for purposes of what that major gift is supposed to be for the kids.

ME: Alright, maybe you’re having a party, maybe you have the kids, do you invite the ex? Do you invite the new family, perhaps? The new girlfriend? Boyfriend? What do you do?

JM: Well…so there’s not a perfect answer for one particular situation. Realistically, you want to try to send a message to your kids that everybody’s still getting along. That may mean that you’re going to include your former spouse, or soon-to-be former spouse, so that everybody’s getting along. But you also want to be very cognizant of the fact that you don’t want to send a wrong message to the kids. You don’t want it to be that they think that everybody’s going to reconcile, this whole situation’s going to go away, because they get more confused, more hurt, and it leads to more problems. So if you think that it can work, that you can maintain those boundaries, that’s fine. But you also have to think about the fact that there’s going to be extended family at these particular occasions. And if your parents or you know, your brother and your sister, are not going to get along with your soon-to-be former spouse, then just avoid it and make sure that the kids have enough time to spend with both parents.

ME: What if this is your first year, you’re alone, you’re without your kids…what’s your best advice?

JM: You want to make sure you’re doing something that doesn’t put you in a depressive state because that then carries over that you’re subconsciously then explaining your depression to the kids. You know, you’re really sad and you don’t–you know–it’s unfortunate that you’re not with them, and then it sort of spreads that maybe they’re affected by your emotional aspect of it. So what you want to make sure you do is understand that for one, if your kids are with your former spouse or soon-to-be former spouse, they’re well taken care of and they’re going to have a good time. And understanding that and letting them know that is going to make this situation that much better for them and they’re going to feel safe and feel comfortable going and having a good time. And then for yourself, you just want to put yourself in a position that you’re with friends or with family and that you’re supported as well, and that you understand this is sort of the new routine that you’re going to be going through and kind of get used to it going forward.

ME: Yeah, and maybe you’ll get them the next Christmas.

JM: Absolutely.

ME: Family law attorney Jonathan Marks, thank you so much, we appreciate it.

JM: My pleasure.

ME: For more information on The Marks Law Firm, just head to the STLMoms tab.