He is Jewish, I am Christian, now who gets the kids on Sunday?
As many families traverse the path of divorce with parents of different faiths, the usually happy holidays can become frustrating and depressing. As a family law attorney, I see this frequently as the result of failing to secure detailed holiday schedules up front and from the outset.
This Sunday, for example, is Easter and the 7th night of Passover. In 2014, the last night of Hannukah was on December 24th, which was Christmas Eve. In 2016, the first night of Hannukah fell on December 24th, Christmas Eve. Without proper planning, these holiday intersections can cause children and parents terrible distress and emotion chaos.
How can we avoid this and spend the holidays meaningfully and free from strife?
1. Proper planning: From the outset the parties should look at calendars until the youngest child turns 18, and account for all holiday crossovers now. Judges will often deny ex parte (emergency) requests for holiday accommodations, as the court may find there is no emergency. These holidays happen every year, you can anticipate and plan for them– the only emergency in the court’s eyes are those circumstances that might lead to the immediate harm of a child. Plan ahead.
2. Include family milestone events in the holiday schedule, including birthdays, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, etc. Even if the parties cannot anticipate the particular date of a future event, the schedule should indicate that both parties agree an event will take place, what the custody will be during the event, and you may consider including who bears the costs of parties, catering, entertainment.
Why do this?
Because these events are supposed to be about the children, but can be ruined by contentious co-parenting. Such tension causes children to experience feelings of instability, chaos, guilt and may have a detrimental impact.
3. If you already have a final judgment that does not provide for holiday scheduling, it is not too late! Try to speak with the other parent about creating a holiday schedule, put it in writing, and have both parents sign a stipulation. If all else fails, one can file a Request for Order asking the court to enter a holiday schedule for your family.
4. What do we do before we have agreed to a schedule? If you do not have a plan or are newly separated, then put the children first. Ask yourself, “what are the children used to?” Is it possible for both spouses to join the holiday so you can be together for the children, or will this create more tension for them? Always make “child first” co-parenting choices.
Why do this? Because holidays are about the children, or should be. Parents must honor their commitments to raising happy, successful and emotionally secure children. This will not happen for a child whose childhood experiences are permeated by parental divorce-related stress, chaos, contempt, and hatred. If one parent has primary custody and denies the other party holiday visitation without very good reason, a judge may frown upon denying the children the opportunity to get to know both sides of their family. As such, inviting the other parent to join in holidays or splitting time in a child-first manner, allows the primary parent to retain oversight while including the other parent. Regardless of status, both parents and the children remain one family forever, and the parents should emphasize this.
5. Do not make holiday exchanges miserable! Often, parents forget that they are negotiating the holiday schedule for the child, not for themselves and their extended family. This can result in multiple custodial exchanges on the actual holidays that the parents are so viciously trying to protect. However, children should be able to enjoy the holidays and not be carted around from one parent to another throughout the day. Both parents have a duty to bring peace and comfort to their children, with the realization that custodial exchanges represent the most stressful aspect of the lives of children of divorce.
Parents must honor their commitments to raising happy, successful and emotionally secure children. This will not happen for a child whose childhood experiences are permeated by parental divorce-related stress, chaos, contempt, and hatred.
What is the remedy to minimize holiday custodial exchanges? Alternate holidays yearly to allow the children to enjoy their time with their respective parent and to avoid having to go from one house to another the night before a holiday, then again the day of the holiday. The more children exchange, the more they are reminded of the divorce and custodial discourse. Alternating rather than splitting can also allow parents to travel with children for holidays, which will not be possible of the exchange takes place on the day of a holiday.
Parents should focus on raising happy children who grow to become productive members of society. Rest assured, alternating holidays yearly will not interfere with this goal, but contempt, chaos, and fighting certainly will.
Happy Easter, Happy Passover, and happy raising happy, healthy children surrounded by love and respect.