As we approach the holiday season, the question I am often asked is, "How do you maintain the holiday traditions after divorce?" Here are some of my thoughts on this subject.
We have a lot of holidays. Three significant ones include Halloween, which people spend more money on than any other holiday with the exception of Christmas (think costumes and decorations). Next we have Thanksgiving and then Christmas.
Let's start with Halloween, which recently passed. I have seen many divorce judgments where the parents have an agreement that they will alternate Halloween each year. In some cases where the parents have a better relationship, they may share Halloween. They may have an agreement where one parent will be handing out the candy and the other will take the the kids trick or treating, or perhaps the parents split the evening so that each one has an hour or two with the kids. This all depends on whether they live in close proximity and whether or not they can communicate effectively.
The next big holiday is Thanksgiving. In most divorce cases, the agreement is that the parents will alternate Thanksgiving so that one year, the children will spend Thanksgiving with mom and her family and the next year, with dad and his family. In some cases, Thanksgiving is handled as one day and in others, it's treated as the entire weekend. Another idea is to spend Thanksgiving day with one parents and the day after Thanksgiving with the other parent, so perhaps the traditions can be celebrated on two days. There are many, many ways to split Thanksgiving. I have even seen cases where families live close together and one parent will have have an early dinner and the other parent will have a late dinner so the children can attend both. Usually, however, Thanksgiving is alternated every other year.
Now we come to Christmas. There are two parts to Christmas, especially if your kids are young: Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Parents may argue that that the children should be able to get up in one house and open presents. I have had cases where one parent will celebrate Christmas Eve with the kids and the other parent will celebrate Christmas Day. I have had other cases where one parent hosts an early Christmas day dinner and the other parent hosts a later dinner. There are many possible solutions.
The biggest problem with Christmas is that it's normally the longest break from school during the entire school year. How should parents divide the time? I have had some cases where parents will alternate the entire holiday break -- mom gets the kids one year, dad gets the kids the next year -- but in most situations, the break is shared. What I do in many of my divorce settlements is include a clause that says in even years, for example, mom will have the children from the day after school lets out until noon on Christmas Day. Dad will then have the children from noon on Christmas Day until the day before school begins in January, and then the normal parenting time schedule resumes. This is alternated every year. Though this also depends on how important Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are to the parents.
The other issue that I have seen over the years is that people often expect too much over the holidays. The holidays are often a source of disappointment and sadness because they don't often don't live up to expectations, especially when there is tension in families. In my practice, many people people come in seeking a divorce after the holidays because their marriage may not be meeting their expectations, the the holidays is a reminder of that. It may be triggered by one too many drinks at an office Christmas party or the fact that someone is doing something inappropriate at a Christmas party, and things tend to snowball. I think we tend to put too much emphasis on the holidays and sometimes we expect too much. Too often, we are often greatly disappointed.
These are some of my thoughts, what are yours?
By: HENRY S. GORNBEIN
Family Law Attorney & Legal Correspondent
40900 Woodward Avenue, Ste. 111
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304-5116
248/594-3444; Fax 248/594-3222