SAN DIEGO – November 14, 2016 – None of the popular holiday songs mention anything about divorce or fractured family relationships, do they? No, it’s always “the most wonderful time of the year” in their world.
But we live in the real world. We feel the stress of expectations that our holiday gifts, meals and events are supposed to be picture perfect. Who could possibly live up to these standards? It makes a difficult situation like separation and divorce even tougher.
When families start planning ahead for the holidays, they often avoid dealing with difficult custody and visitation schedules, winter vacations and even gift-giving until it’s down to the wire. That’s when the phones start ringing off the hook in family law offices like mine all over the country. I could set my watch by it every year.
Please don’t let this happen! We don’t want to rush into family law court to file emergency legal documents and see you spending your time dealing with avoidable problems. Let me also assure you these issues don’t put judges in a very good mood, and you don’t want an annoyed judge making decisions about your family holidays.
So we’re putting our our Ten Tips for Happy Divorce Holidays nice and early so you can take our advice now, get these issues out of the way, and enjoy your holiday season with minimum stress for you and your children. Bonus: you’ll avoid the added financial expense of legal bills.
- Look over your court order or settlement agreement, especially if it’s been a while. Get familiar with specific dates and times your children are with you, and when they are supposed to be with the other parent. Holiday visitation might override your regular schedule year to year.
- Talk with your ex-spouse about holiday schedules way ahead of time. Send a friendly confirmation to make sure you’re both on the same page. Find out early if there is going to be a battle. See if there are any areas of disagreement you can solve through reasonable discussion without involving attorneys or courts now.
Note: your attorney should be happy to review your holiday schedules for minimum cost. It can save you time, money, and stress in the long run if it prevents the need to hire an attorney to work out a schedule at the last minute.
- Create a holiday schedule for your kids and post it. Make sure everyone is familiar with it so transitions are smooth. No one needs any surprises other than the ones from Santa.
- Be flexible as much as possible. Your orders or settlement may be clear, but plans by family members don’t always fit into them neatly. If family members are making a special trip, be sure your children see everyone even if it disrupts your regular custody schedule. Encouraging ongoing relationships with all of your children’s family members is always in their best interest.
- If it’s your kids who are traveling to see extended family with you, be sure the other parent knows the schedule and has contact information. Don’t forget and then expect him or her to agree to your prearranged holiday the day before the trip. If there are any gray areas, get your custody order clarified and get consent from the other parent in writing so there are no misunderstandings.
- Don’t try to slip out of town before the other parent “notices.” As a general rule, you cannot take minor children out of your state without the other parent’s express written consent. The other parent should be informed right away if you plan to leave town.
- Discuss any concerns with a family law attorney if you need to ask a court for a modification of visitation, especially if there are concerns about any circumstances which could put your children at risk such as visiting extended family where there is alcohol or substance abuse for example.
- Help your kids relax by being relaxed about plans, even if they don’t exactly go your way. Your anxiety will create anxiety in your children. Don’t make them take sides and don’t make them feel guilty for enjoying time with the other parent’s side of the family.
- You may want to leave old traditions behind in your new family circumstances. If you feel sadness about family activities that remind you of a time your family was together, accept change as positive. Let your children find new, fun activities to pursue during the holidays that will become “their” traditions.
- You may need to admit you just can’t suck it up and be polite at a huge family dinner table with your former in-laws and your ex over the holidays. You may need time for healing. But remember while your relationships have changed, your child’s relationships with gradnparents, aunts and uncles and cousins have not. See if you can’t manage to be polite for a few hours to allow your children to enjoy the festivities with family.
Put in a little thought and planning now to avoid calling a family law attorney to handle last minute emergencies during the holidays. You don’t need the distraction or the expense at an already busy time of year. This is supposed to be a special time for everyone, most of all your children.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities at Washington Times. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra. Fleischer can be reached via Google +
Copyright © 2016 by Fleischer & Ravreby, Attorneys at Law