The holidays can present problems for parents going through a divorce or who have already divorced. Each parent wants family time with the children, and if not handled right, everyone can feel hurt or depressed. For many separated or divorced parents, one of the hardest decisions about the holidays is what happens with the children on those days. Obviously, sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner with your entire family at the table, including your ex, is usually neither a real possibility nor a good choice. Fortunately, with some forethought, every family can identify the right Thanksgiving approach that should make everyone as happy as possible given the reality of two separate households.
The Short Answer
On Thanksgiving, the kids go wherever the Parenting Plan says that they go.
What If I Don’t Have a Parenting Plan?
Until you have a Parenting Plan, someone must make a decision. So, either you and your ex will reach an agreement, or the judge assigned to your case will decide what happens for you.
It’s not in your best interest to have the judge decide whether you or your ex has Thanksgiving with the children. Why? Judges don’t enjoy deciding where the kids go for the holidays. The judge assigned to your case doesn’t know you or your children or your family’s holiday traditions. What the judge assigned to your case does know, is that two parents cannot decide what is best for their children for Thanksgiving and that your children must go somewhere to celebrate. The judge will also remember that he had to make this decision for you throughout the remainder of your divorce case.
What Are Your Options?
There are many ways you can divide up Thanksgiving with your kids. You basically have five options:
1. One parent always has Thanksgiving as his or her holiday. This is the least common result among families going through a divorce. If selected, it is usually the result of one parent not caring about Thanksgiving (i.e., a parent’s family never celebrated the holiday, or one parent is from another country) or one parent always having to work on Thanksgiving.
2. One parent gets all of Thanksgiving Day (i.e., 9:00 am on Thursday until 9:00 am on Friday) in alternating years.
3. The parents split Thanksgiving Day with one parent getting the kids from, say 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and the other getting them from 4:00 pm to 9:00 am the following day. This is the second least common result for families going through a divorce. This option only works if you and your ex live close to each other and you get along well enough to want the children to spend the holiday with each parent.
4. One parent has 9:00 am on Wednesday through 9:00 am on Monday in alternating years. This option provides for Thanksgiving Day and for the entire weekend one year, and the other parent gets the whole weekend the next year. This used to be the standard for many years and remains the best option for a parent who travels each year to be with family on Thanksgiving.
5. One parent has 4:00 pm on Wednesday through 4:00 pm on Friday in alternating years. This is the most common option today. It provides a 48-hour block of time to celebrate the holiday with your children but doesn’t disrupt the regular alternate weekend schedule.
How Should You Decide?
The best way to decide where the kids should go on Thanksgiving is to put yourself in their shoes and try to do what is really in their best interest. This means not insisting that Thanksgiving be treated as a 1-day holiday when your entire family has always gone to your in-laws’ house in a different state for the whole Thanksgiving weekend. If you continue insisting, then you know that your children won’t see one set of their grandparents for Thanksgiving eve again. That is not in your children’s best interest.
Even though you may have always gone with the children to your parent’s house for Thanksgiving in the past, you should not insist that this annual tradition must continue post-divorce. Your ex is also your children’s parent. The children need to spend holidays with both parents and their extended family. It’s not in the children’s best interest to always spend Thanksgiving with you.
What if You Can’t Decide?
If you and your spouse, for whatever reason, can’t agree on who gets the kids for Thanksgiving, then you have three choices: (1) go to mediation to try and work this out; (2) do nothing and follow the regular weekday schedule and let that decide which parent has the children on Thanksgiving Day; or (3) file a motion and ask the judge to decide the issue for you. Of these three choices, the second is by far the worst choice. If you don’t have a custody schedule that dictates where the kids go for Thanksgiving and you and your ex don’t agree, then you need to go to mediation or have the judge issue a court order. Do not avoid dealing with this issue because you have the children every Thursday on the weekday custody schedule. You may think you have the upper hand; however, the judge at the end of the case may find you to be selfish, unfair to your children, and alienating to your ex by keeping the children away from him or her. If you do want the judge to decide who gets the kids on Thanksgiving Day, then you better file your motion as early as possible. If you wait until a week or two before Thanksgiving to file, there is a good chance that the court won’t hear the motion.
We Wish You and Your Family a Happy Thanksgiving!
No matter what, we understand that it is hard to spend Thanksgiving Day (or any other holiday) without your children. Whether you are with your children all Thanksgiving Day, part of the holiday, or not at all this year, remember to be thankful that you have children. We hope that you and your children are happy and healthy. Whatever you do this Thanksgiving, we hope you have a wonderful holiday!
Should you need the advice of an experienced divorce or child custody attorney, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those issues with you.