Once the divorce is final and child custody and visitation agreements are in place, most families find a rhythm to it, and life begins to move forward in the “new normal.” However, joint custody over the holidays can throw a big fat wrench in the works.
For example, this year, the Christmas and New Year’s holidays fall right smack dab in the middle of the weekend, which may not flow with families who have every-other-weekend visitation built into their schedules. Some parents may be just fine with taking a child over the entirety of a holiday break. For others, that’s a significant work/child care struggle, regardless of what the child custody agreement decrees.
Always Put The Child’s Wellbeing First
Now is the time to compare your child’s schedule, the school schedule, and the other parent’s schedules to come up with a holiday visitation calendar that puts the child’s emotional wellbeing first but honors the tenets of your agreement.
Honor your child’s feelings when it comes to joint custody over the holidays
This doesn’t mean that if your child says s/he wants to spend more time with you than the other parent, you get to honor that. It means you need to keep any negativity, irritation, or frustration about the other parent completely separate from your child. Children tend to take on the responsibility for their parent’s divorce and unhappiness. They often feel they are the ultimate cause. Any negative energy they pick up from you about their other parent is internalized and can manifest in different ways such as academic struggles, social anxiety, depression, and anxiety.
Take care of child custody business away from children’s hearing and witnessing so they can enjoy the best relationship possible with each parent.
Review the child custody/visitation order
If the divorce or child custody agreement is fairly new, get it out and review it to make sure you both understand the holiday agreements. Sometimes, clients are “sure” of a specific agreement – only to find the court order is different. The court’s final order is the rule you have to follow. If your situation has changed and you need to modify that, you can do it in writing as a shared agreement – and leave the court out of it. If, however, you feel it may become an issue down the road, it’s best to request a post-custody modification from the court.
Get everything in writing
Most child custody agreements include things like “every other holiday” turns or “Christmas Eve with one parent/Christmas day with the other,” etc. The challenge is that some holidays float through the calendar year and may land on a weekend or weekday that would have been the other parent’s typical visitation day.
Negotiating agreements within the general family law court guidelines are fine, but it’s best to get everything in writing. Start an email chain (email is almost always better than text) that outlines where children are on each day of the November/December/early January days – and that clearly states both parents’ agreement once it’s decided. This keeps things clear and transparent.
Keep an open and gracious mindset
Be as gracious to your ex as you want him/her to be with you. If your sister is coming from out of state and would like to visit the kids for dinner or lunch, ask permission and reiterate that you will do the same in return if/when a similar situation happens on the other side.
Again, this is always what’s best for the children – who should feel like they have somewhat of a healthy flow between households and extended family visits – as needed – regardless of what the “letter of the law” dictates. Never use your children (or power plays) as pawns.
Keep children out of negotiations
This is a reiteration of #1. Your children should never feel like they’re part of an emotional or powerplay tug of war between parents. They want to rest in as much open-hearted grace and fluidity as possible so they can remain healthy, loving, and respectful relationships with each one. To this end, do not discuss any changes to the plans until everything is decided. Once the plan is official and parents agree, is it okay to share the finalized plan with children.
If things are strained, or you and the other parent have a history of contentious negotiations, try to use written documentation as much as possible. Do what you need to do (breathwork, seeing a therapist, stress-reduction apps, etc.) to remain respectful and businesslike no matter how triggered you are. Your words and sentiments could come back to haunt you in future child custody modifications, so always strive to take the high road.
Need Help Negotiating Joint Custody Over The Holidays?
Do you find it nearly impossible to create changes to the plan or negotiate joint custody over the holidays? There’s no need to go to court, but I do recommend seeking support from a neutral child custody mediator. For a reasonable fee, we can sit down together and resolve the holiday visitation schedule for this year as well as the years to come. Contact the Law Offices of Gerard Falzone to create a healthy, balanced, and children-first holiday custody and visitation agreement.