If a couple decides to resolve their divorce using the collaborative divorce process, they will have the benefit of working together and with a team to develop their short and long-term holiday plans. In New York, families who work within the collaborative divorce process sit down and discuss the holidays with their family specialist, who serves as a child specialist and a coach for the parties’ communication. 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 what the best options will be to help the children (and often the parents) 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 who the lawyers know well and trust, the entire experience for the parents and usually the children is very different from that in a litigated divorce. In the collaborative divorce process, the focus is on the children and in the end, that usually is more beneficial to the parents, too.
Part 1 of our 3 part series on holiday planning during divorce focused on putting your children first. Here, in Part 2, we focus on creative solutions to celebrate the holidays that are available through the collaborative process.
When the parents resolve their case through the collaborative divorce process, it isn’t unusual for the parents to agree to 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. One nesting client recently let me know that she and her soon-to-be-ex were planning to spend Thanksgiving together with the kids and would be shopping for a Christmas tree together later that weekend and decorating it together once they got it home to the nest. During this first holiday season of their separation, they wanted to make sure it started off with as much normalcy for the children as possible.
2. Spending the Holidays Together
It is not unique 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. This must be handled carefully so that it does not give the children false hope that the parents will reunite, but 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 is working so well that the parents are working this into their permanent agreement.
- In another collaborative divorce case, the parents are discussing that for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the kids will be with Dad and his family in a neighboring state and that Mom will 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 can use 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 couple 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 creative thinking for the benefit of all members of a family who are experiencing a divorce.
Would these creative options be likely in a contested, litigated divorce?
Nope. Never. In a highly contested divorce, there would typically be fighting over Thanksgiving, Christmas and just about every other holiday. 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 will never be happy, and your children won’t be happy if you ask a judge to make these very personal decisions for your family. If you want to discuss how the collaborative divorce process can help you find creative solutions, contact Vacca Family Law Group.