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Divorce and the Holidays: When Relationships Get Frosty

We are now in the holiday season. Think of that Norman Rockwell perfect Christmas, family and friends getting together. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. That is the ideal. What is the reality? Actually, the holidays are very stressful times. I have found over the years that many people will come to me to file for divorce after the Christmas holidays. People have these unrealistic expectations that are rarely met by the holidays.

Office parties, with that one drink too many, and inappropriate behavior, often lead to divorces being filed in January. Disappointment over friends and relatives who are not so great will prompt people to file for divorce. It is a stressful time for in-tact marriages, and it is even more stressful for people who are already divorced. Fights are common over who has Christmas Eve, and who has Christmas Day. How is Thanksgiving handled? What about New Years? How is the Christmas vacation divided? These are issues that I deal with as part of my practice. I have the last minute phone calls where someone has failed to produce the children for the holiday. This year, my client was supposed to have the Thanksgiving holiday in Florida where she resides, and her former husband took off with the child to another state, violating the court order and destroying the holiday. As a Michigan family law attorney, I deal with the drama and emotion, seeking solutions, for people in crisis, and often on a last minute basis. 

Here are some suggestions:

  1. In an in-tact marriage, there are issues as to whether you spend the holiday with one set of relatives or the other, and you often alternate them.
  2. After a divorce, if the tradition was one where Christmas Eve was with one family, and Christmas Day with the other family, then follow that tradition.
  3. If there was no tradition, then typically a schedule will be one where one parent has the children on Christmas Eve one year until perhaps noon on Christmas Day, and then it is rotated.
  4. Thanksgiving is handled with some people alternating just the day, and others alternating the entire Thanksgiving holiday weekend from perhaps Wednesday after school until Sunday evening.
  5. Christmas breaks are often divided with one parent having the children from the day after school lets out until noon on Christmas Day in even years, and from noon on Christmas Day until the day school begins in odd years. There are many, many ways to handle these holidays. If people communicate well, then a simple arrangement will work. Where people have a failure to communicate and cannot agree on anything, then every detail must be spelled out. Holidays become more complicated and stressful. Even though you thought you got rid of those pesky in-laws, guess what? Divorces don’t end these relationships.

Share with me some of your holiday horror stories and solutions. Have a happy holiday season.