Who Gets Thanksgiving?

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Divorce and Child Custody on Wednesday November 20, 2013

If any single holiday on our calendar exemplifies family, that holiday would be Thanksgiving.  Yes, Black Friday has become Brown Thursday, and turkey football has stretched to three NFL games on three networks for nearly twelve hours of coverage, but we watch and shop – and above all else, eat – with family.  Family we love, family we hate, and all other gradations in between.  Married couples may argue about how to handle these visits, particularly if the sets of families live in different states, but usually they manage to schedule time with both sides, even if they have to rotate lunch and dinner, or Thursday with Saturday.  Despite the inconvenience, families reunite and for a few days recall the warmth of the happiest times of our youth.

Not so the divorced parent with children.  Rather than look forward to the near week break from school and somewhat less of work, the divorced family often spends time arguing over travel arrangements and flight times and fighting for every last possible second of custodial time.  Rather than look forward to family togetherness, the divorced family often dreads the family conflicts created by the divorce and how to navigate visits to former in-laws.  And many divorced parents rue the fact that this Thanksgiving they will not see their children at all.

In a recent article in the Huffington Post, a divorced mother described her Thanksgivings post-divorce, noting that in her decree her ex received custody of Thanksgiving, leaving her without the children.  As she so pithily stated, “I always miss my son on a day that’s usually about family. (Although now that he’s grown up and married, it’s because he spends the day with his wife’s family.)”

Unfortunately, our courts contribute to this problem by not dividing Thanksgiving in a more sensible manner.  Unlike Christmas, which alternates Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and also the winter break, Thanksgiving usually alternates whole hog (or turkey) – one parent has all of Thanksgiving for the year, even though Thanksgiving really extends from Wednesday through Sunday and could be divided in various ways.  So courts, unwittingly, on a day known for family, have carved Thanksgiving into an annual rite of disappointment.

Fortunately, parents going through divorce have the ability to use a little foresight and plan for Thanksgiving.  Rather than give one parent all of the stretch of time, divide the holiday.  If the families both live in town, lunch could be at one house, and dinner at the other.  The remaining vacation time should be shared equally.  If the families live in different towns, divide the time in half, and alternate the front or back half every other year — a very simple solution that, frankly, should be required in every Parenting Plan.

Thanksgiving should be a joyous holiday, a respite from the pain that comes with living in separate households.  Children, caught in the middle, should have as many holidays as possible with both parents.  If anyone should get custody of a holiday, it should be the child, and the parents should learn to share with the child in practical ways, regardless of the lingering degree of acrimony between the parents.  If we can do it for Christmas, we can do it for Thanksgiving.  No parent should have to sit on Thanksgiving missing his or her child; we only have so many Thanksgivings, and it seems the ultimate irony to speak of giving thanks when a key part of your life cannot be with you by court order.  We can and must strive to do better.

The best way to handle holidays in custody matters is to anticipate all of these issues during the litigation process.  An experienced and skilled attorney should guide you through all of these potential questions and pitfalls and know how to draft solutions that minimize future pain for parent and child alike, as well as the likelihood of revisiting these issues again in court.

If you have questions about Thanksgiving custody, contact our St. Louis family law attorneys – we can help.

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