Holidays (be they Christmas, Chanukah Kwanza, Eid, New Years, or any other important celebration) can be difficult for separated families. It may be impossible for the kids to celebrate with both parents and their families - or to have the most important times, such as Christmas Morning, with both parents. Dividing up these special times with the children can be one of the biggest challenges after separation or in divorce.
The first consideration is that these are special times for the kids too - sometimes more special for the kids than for the adults. The kids DO NOT want these special times marked by fights between their parents - especially fights in which a child may feel compelled to take a side in favour of one loved parent against another loved parent. That can really ruin the entire special day or the entire season for the child - completely. Parents who love and want to protect their kids must avoid fights over the kids at these special times. It is always more important for the kids to be happy than for a parent to be “right.”
Of course, finding a fair plan for the kids over holidays can b be hard. There are a few general principals that parents can use to help them make their plans. When a judge has to decide what times the kids will spend with each parent over holidays, the main consideration is what is in the children’s best interest. What is best for the kids always trumps what is best for the parents. What is best for the kids can vary from family to family and can really be affected by what is “usual” in the family. However, in the absence of special circumstances, the following is what many Family Court Judges feel is fair:
- Kids should rotate where they wake up on Christmas Morning or the parent with whom they spend special events. Christmas is often the most problematic, but this can apply to any holiday or special event that has a particularly special time. Kids should get the opportunity to spend this time with each parent. But, keep in mind that for really young kids, the fight may not be worth it. They may not know what date it is, so it can be possible to create the special time on any day.
- Where Possible, Traditions Should Continue for the Kids. This can conflict with point 1. But that is usually more of an opportunity to resolve conflict than to create it. If for example, one side of the family has traditionally celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, and the other on Christmas Day, it can be possible for the kids to attend both families’ celebrations every year, rather than miss one. Dinner on Christmas Day is not a prize to be one - especially if it means ruining your family’s traditional Christmas Eve celebrations. Be sensible and practical about where the kids can maximize the celebrations.
- Holiday Time is usually shared equally. As with point 1, the kids should get a good opportunity to experience the holidays with each parent another families. There are some obvious exceptions to this such as when such an arrangement is not safe for the kids, or where one parent has to work and cannot take advantage of the extra time with the children. Again, this division has to be what is best for the children.
- For Christmas, parents often share the Christmas Eve through Boxing Day period equally and then share the rest to the school break equally. For this “special period” it really makes sense for the “special day” to be divided (as set out in point 1) and it can make no sense for one parent to get the entire week around Christmas while the other parent is shut out of Christmas entirely.
- Travel with the kids is OK during the holidays as long as it does not interfere with the other parent’s holidays. There are steps you can take if another parent refuses, without good reason, to let you travel.
- Trying to give better or bigger presents than the other parent teaches kids that it pays to be manipulative. Kids will play one parent against the other for better gifts if they know that their parents will fall for it.
- Just because you are angry or emotional about holidays after separation, does not mean your kids feel the same way. Although it can be hard, parents should make holidays a happy time for the children. The separation was not the kids’ fault, so they have no reason to feel angry or guilty.
- Trash talking the other parent around the holiday table, or at any other time that the kids are present is never OK. In fact, Family Court Judges view that as bad parenting and, perhaps, even a reason to change custody or the parenting schedule. This video explains why:
Nothing ruins holidays for kids like fights between their parents. It is one of he most psychologically harmful thing that parents can do their kids. As unfair as the other parent may be to you over organizing the holidays, exposing your kids to conflict over, or about the holidays, is more unfair to your kids. If you cannot get matters sorted out before the holidays, in or out of Family Court, then it is much better to take the high road and save your kids from the fight, then take it to the judge (or arbitrator) to fix things next time. The judge will appreciate that you put the kids wellbeing ahead of your own, and will be displeased with any parent who used the kids as pawns over the holidays. That can only lead to things working out better for you, and the kids, in the long run.
For more information on the law as it relates to child custody, the family court process, and the alternatives to family court, get a copy of this easy-to-understand book on Ontario Family Law. The paperback version is available from Amazon and the $9.99 ebook is available for Kindle, Kobo, and from iTunes for iPad, IPhone and Mac.. It also includes several tips on how to get the best possible result for you and your kids.
However, the best way to protect your kids, and your relationship with them, is to see a good family lawyer who has lot of experience in child custody and access cases. Certified Specialist in Family Law, John Schuman, is known for his concern for children in separation and divorce and has won many child custody cases. To contact John, call 416-446-5869, email him, or fill out the form below. You can use the same form to comment on this page.
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