Guest Column

Celebrating the Holidays After a Divorce – How Separated Couples Choose to Share Time With Their Children Can Make a Big Difference

With the holidays approaching, people are busy making travel arrangements and shopping lists, digging out old recipes and getting their homes ready for what is arguably one of the most family oriented times of the year. However for couples with children who are ending their marriage or relationship these times come with an added layer of concern as to how they will share time with their children during these special events. When a couple decides to divorce or end their relationship and they have a child or children in common, there are many issues that need to be resolved relative to their children. Many questions arise regarding how the children will react to their parent’s split and the many changes that will inevitably take place. Regardless of the parent’s marital status (married, co-habitating, dating or separated) these issues are present and will need to be addressed proactively so as to minimize any negative impact on the children 

There is no “one size fits all” formula used to determine how to handle parenting time during the holidays. Many choose to alternate years in which they have parenting time with the children for  a specific holiday. Other people find it difficult to not see their children on a holiday and if distance and plans permit, opt to share the day every year with an exchange of the children taking place during midday so that the children can participate in activities with both sides of the family. 

Couples may recognize that a certain holiday has traditionally been spent with one side of the family during their relationship and therefore decide that the children should continue to spend that holiday with that spouse and continue the traditions to which they have already become accustomed.

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Alternatively some couples may believe it is best for themselves and their children to put aside their differences and spend the holidays together with their children. While this arrangement may work in the short term, it often becomes more complicated as parents develop new relationships and have additional individuals that become involved in holiday celebrations.

Regardless of the arrangement chosen by a couple, it is important they get on the same page and determine how best to handle holiday parenting time well in advance of the holiday season. This is important for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it allows separated couples to appropriately discuss any new holiday traditions with their children well in advance of the holidays. 

Secondly, when spouses are unable to agree on how to share time with their children during the holidays they may choose to engage the help of their respective attorneys to finalize terms and conditions of holiday parenting time. Couples may also opt to seek the assistance of a mediator to work through their differing opinions. However, ultimately if no agreement can be reached, then couples are left to seek assistance from the court and file an application asking for a judge to make a determination of how the holiday time should be split.  The process of filing an application with the court takes time not only in the preparation of the application but also the time between the date on which an application is filed and the date on which an application is heard by a judge. If a spouse files an application with the court on Tuesday October 31st, for example, the earliest that the application will be heard by a judge would be Friday November 24th, which could potentially be after the Thanksgiving holiday. 

While there is a mechanism called an order to show cause which asks a judge to make a decision on an issue on an emergent basis, this mechanism was designed to be used only in limited circumstances.  As a result of this, many judges do not believe that holiday parenting time qualifies as emergent and therefore may choose not to render a decision regarding holiday parenting time prior to the holiday actually occurring. 

Bottom line is that the options for holiday parenting time are virtually limitless, with the right arrangement being what works best for a couple and their children. What is most important is to address these issues early so that the holiday season can be enjoyed with children.

Lindabury’s Family Law Group has decades of experience representing clients in ensuring that parental rights are protected.  We provide the full range of divorce and family law services and are easily accessible from our Westfield, Summit or Red Bank, New Jersey offices. Call Nicole Kobis at 908-233-6800 or send an email to nkobis@lindabury.com to schedule a consultation.

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