Parenting Time & Decision Making

Separated/Divorced Parents: How to Navigate the Holidays in Good Cheer

co-parenting during the holidays
Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

For parents going through a separation or divorce, the holiday season can be a tricky time.  If they are already in routine conflict over things like child support, then parenting time during the festive season might be just one more thing for them to fight about. 

For some, the only solution is a detailed court-ordered schedule.  In a case called L.I.O. v. I.K.A., for example, the court set out 13 detailed clauses in its order, specifying which of the separated parents would be with the child (“T.”) on each holiday. For Christmas, the relevant clause read as follows:  

b) Christmas Holidays-will be equally shared by both parents with the start and end date being determined by the school calendar in the mother’s district. The mother shall have T. in her care in the first half of the holiday each year, except on Christmas Eve (Dec 24) when T. will be in the care of the father in 2016; and on Christmas Day (Dec 25) when T. will be in the care of the father in 2017; with the same alternating schedule for the father each year on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day;

The court also stipulated which parent would have the child on other occasions – like Halloween, Buddhist holidays, the once-monthly “Poya Day”, and the anniversary of the parental grandfather’s death.

Fortunately, not all separated and divorced couples need this level of court micro-management. If you are one of them, the better option is for you to each agree to a holiday schedule that works best for you – and more importantly, works best for your child.   

How divorced parents can maximize joy this season: 

  • Plan Ahead.  Meet with each other long before the holiday season. Refer to any previously-agreed or court-ordered schedule, to see what clear obligations you may already have. 
  • Keep it Real.  Identify any cherished traditions or events that either of you find particularly meaningful. Discuss your respective expectations, then explore your capacity for meeting each other’s wishes. Try to come to an early agreement on a general schedule that works for everyone. Consult with your Family lawyers if you need help in working out the details. 
  • Create a Parenting Plan for the Holiday.  Itemize which days each of you will spend with your child, and which ones are to be spent with extended family members (like grandparents).  Sort out any transportation arrangements. Think about how long each of you should have access to the child, on which days. Will both of you share Christmas Day?  Or is it better for your child to alternate years? 
  • Be Flexible, and Respectful.  Crafting a simple holiday parenting plan may seem straightforward, but emotions can hinder the process.  Try to remain respectful and flexible throughout.  As tempting as it may be to get into an argument, try to take a deep breath and focus on what is best for your child, rather than dwell on past grievances. 
  • Think Hard About Your Child’s Needs.   When crafting a parenting plan, keep in mind any special traditions that your child may look forward to. Consider whether you need any extra help from the other parent, with commitments or travel during the festive period.  These little things can make a big difference in providing stability for your child during an already-difficult transition period.
  • Keep Lines of Communication Open.   Anticipate that there might be glitches in even your best-laid plans.  Agree on how you will resolve any unexpected changes. When scheduling, try to build in a “buffer” to account for the inevitable delays – after all, holiday fun doesn’t always operate on a strict timetable, and neither should you.  
  • Keep Your Expectations in Check.  The holidays can be full of magic and memories.  But especially with a looming separation or divorce, picture-perfect gatherings can be challenging (or downright impossible) to achieve.  Above all, keep your expectations in line with what is reasonable and do-able in your particular  circumstances. 

The Take-Away

Holidays can be stressful at the best of times. Having to navigate parenting time during separation or divorce can just add to the strain. 

By jointly creating a workable parenting plan, and by remaining flexible, communicative, and respectful, you can both optimize the likelihood that everyone – and especially your child – will have a warm and wonderful holiday season this year.

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.