Divorcing during the holidays is not easy for you or your children, but it may be unavoidable. So what is the best way to divorce if you want to maintain holiday traditions while minimizing the impact your divorce will have on your children’s lives? In most cases, the answer is collaborative divorce.
In Part 1 of our 3-part blog series on holiday planning in divorce, we discussed the importance of putting your children first during the holidays. Here, in Part 2, we focus on creative solutions to spending the holidays together that are possible through the collaborative process.
Collaborative Divorce is Centered Around the Children
Divorcing parents who choose the collaborative divorce process have the benefit of working together with a team of professionals who help them develop their short and long-term holiday plans. In New York, families who choose the collaborative divorce process sit down and discuss the holidays with their family specialist, who can help the parties create a holiday parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children. When the parties use the collaborative divorce process, the family specialist will help them look at a variety of options for their time with the children. The family specialist can advise the parents on what the best options will be to help them and their children have the healthiest parenting time arrangement going forward.
This conversation is not going to be a legal conversation. Generally, the lawyers aren’t even involved unless there’s a real sticky situation, which is not that common in the collaborative divorce process. The lawyers give some overall guidance to their clients, but because they are working with family specialists whom the lawyers know well and trust, the experience is very different from that of a litigated divorce, both for the parents and the children. In the collaborative divorce process, the focus is on what’s best for the children, which in the end is usually more beneficial to the parents, too.
When the parents resolve their divorce through the collaborative process, it isn’t unusual for the parents to agree on what may appear to be unorthodox arrangements while the divorce is pending.
A nesting arrangement (the term comes from bird-nesting) is where the children live in the family residence and each parent stays somewhere else when it is the other parent’s scheduled time with the children. It is the parents who are inconvenienced, not the children. A former nesting client of mine once told me that she and her soon-to-be-ex at the time were planning to spend Thanksgiving together with the kids, shop for a Christmas tree together later that weekend, and decorate it together once they got it home. Creating a nesting arrangement through the collaborative divorce process can be very beneficial during the holidays, especially while the divorce is still in progress. During this first holiday season of my client’s separation, she and her now-ex wanted to make sure it started off with as much normalcy for the children as possible.
2. Spending the Holidays Together
It is not uncommon for one parent to come to the other’s home at some point over the holidays so that they can celebrate with the children together. This is especially true in the first year or two of a couple’s separation. As we discussed in Part 1, this approach must be handled carefully by setting realistic expectations so that it does not give the children false hope that the parents will reunite. If handled properly, this enables the children to have a gradual transition to the changes that will occur as a result of a divorce. Here are some good examples:
- One of my collaborative divorce clients invited her children’s father and his parents to her home on Thanksgiving Day to celebrate along with her siblings and all of the kids’ cousins. They agreed that at the end of the day, the kids’ father and grandparents would leave and the kids would spend 2 nights in her home. On Saturday morning, Dad would pick them up and have them for the rest of the weekend. This worked so well that the parents included it in their permanent agreement.
- In another collaborative divorce case, the parents discussed that for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the kids would be with Dad and his family in a neighboring state and that Mom would go there on Christmas morning. Mom was even invited to stay at her former in-laws’ home on Christmas Eve if she wanted. Of course, when either or both parties have new relationships, there may need to be changes to this kind of arrangement. But the children will have watched their parents model flexible thinking and cooperation, which are lessons they will keep with them their entire lives.
Sometimes, the divorcing couple is on board with how to celebrate the holidays and won’t need much coaching from the collaborative divorce team. However, they may need help figuring out how to explain their new plans to extended family members. A divorcing couple we worked with, who was in the middle of their collaborative divorce, agreed that they needed to opt-out of hosting everyone this year and would take their children to a destination hotel to celebrate Christmas instead. They agreed that while traditions are important, making sure their nuclear family was in good shape during the divorce was their most important goal for that year. The family specialist was able to help them figure out how to explain all of this to their parents and siblings whose holiday plans were now being changed without much-advanced warning.
Years after that collaborative divorce was over, the clients continued to report that, although it was challenging until their children grew up and got married themselves, they continued to celebrate major holidays together as a family. This won’t work in every case, but it is a great example of how creative thinking that is tailored to your situation can be highly beneficial for all members of a family who are experiencing a divorce.
Would These Creative Solutions Be Likely in a Contested, Litigated Divorce?
Nope. Never. In a highly contested divorce, there would typically be fighting over Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and just about every other holiday when the parents and children are off from work and school. Usually, the Court gives the parents standard, inflexible possession periods which would include alternating years between them for many of the holidays. Such polarization of the parties is damaging to the children and can have a long-term negative effect on them.
This is just one of the many reasons why I recommend that divorcing couples avoid court. Believe me, you and your children will not be happy if you allow a judge to make these very personal, permanent decisions for your family. If you and your spouse are separating, the collaborative divorce process can help you find creative solutions to spending the holidays together and maintaining your nuclear family for the sake of your children. For creative solutions to the holidays that are tailored to your unique situation, contact Vacca Family Law Group to schedule your free introductory call.