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5 Questions to Consider to Avoid a Holiday Custody Tug-of-War

Red ornament on a Christmas tree

Dealing with your divorce over Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays is definitely hard on you and your spouse, but it’s often even harder on your children. If you don’t have holiday custody set in the divorce decree, this makes the holidays even more stressful for you and your kids. Both parents will want the children to spend the holiday with them and their families so they can be a part of fun family memories. However, submitting your kids in a holiday tug-of-war between celebrations places undue hardships on everyone involved.

In these cases, the best course of action is to make a mature and agreeable decision WITH your ex-spouse. Before you sit down to a potentially volatile discussion, however, ask yourself the following questions first.

  1. Can You Set Aside the Issues of Your Divorce so You Can Consider What's Best for Your Child?

    Holidays are well known for resurrecting old painful memories and resentments, even in families without divorce. Because of that, it may be difficult to separate the emotional pain of your divorce from deciding where your child will spend a holiday celebration. That said, you must also remember that not setting it aside will make the situation worse for you, your ex, and most importantly, your children.
  2. Is it Possible to Celebrate Together?

    It sounds laughable, but this happens more often that you would normally think. It often takes years to get to this point, but if you think you can, you should definitely give it a shot. If it’s your first year to try, consider meeting at a public place instead of a family home. If the divorce happened in the last couple of years and/or your child still believes that a stunt like The Parent Trap will work, then it may be best to skip this idea all-together.
  3. Is it Possible to Celebrate a Holiday on Different Days?

    This is a great option if this is your first holiday season since the divorce. If it’s successful, you may want to look into setting this trend every year and alternate which family spends which holiday on the actual day. This is also a better option for the kids over taking them to multiple celebrations in one day. Nobody wants a holiday similar to the extended travel required from Four Christmases.
  4. Can You or Your Ex Forgo Celebrating a Holiday with Your Child?

    Most divorce decrees that include holiday visitation call for alternating holidays with the children, and it’s done this way for a reason: it’s the easiest on everyone. Try taking your child to your family’s Thanksgiving one year and then let your child go with your ex for Christmas. The next year, swap. This option completely neutralizes the sensation of tug-of-war, and it never forces your child to pick sides.
  5. Can You and Your Ex Present a United Decision to Your Child?

    Never have these discussions in front of your child, for starters. Then, once you make a decision with your ex-spouse, present your decision to your child together. Never, ever tell your child behind your ex’s back that this is not what you or what your ex wanted. The purpose of this is to minimize conflict, not add more to the table. Not to mention, it’s always best for the child for the parents to work as a team, even if they’re no longer married.

It’s worth noting that most divorce decrees will contain detailed provisions for how to divide up the holidays post-divorce. Many people follow these without incident and, often, have come up with those provisions, in Agreed Decrees, after thinking and working through many of the scenarios above. However, in most Texas divorce decrees, whether prepared by our office or another law firm, the first portion of the possession schedule reads along the lines of “except as otherwise agreed to by the parents, the following schedule applies”. This means that parents can almost always agree to a new or better schedule, if they are experiencing difficulties with the one in the decree, without having to go back to Court. However, there does need to be agreement and, as mentioned, these discussions should always take place outside the presence of the kids.

As always, Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers is here to provide you with the support and guidance you need during this challenging time. To schedule an initial consultation with a Denton family law attorney, please feel free to contact us at (940) 293-2313.

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