Divorce During the Holidays

Posted on Dec 16, 2022 by Katie Carter

Divorce is a bit of a downer even at the best of times, but it’s probably doubly (or triply) difficult during the holiday season.

In fact, there are a lot of people who just don’t even deal with their divorce or custody cases until after the holiday season is over, or just wait until afterwards to bring it up at all. But it doesn’t really matter whether your case is pending during the holiday season, whether you wait til afterwards, or whether you resolve it long before the stores bring out their Halloween displays. No matter what, if you separate, get a divorce, or go through a custody case, there’s going to be one holiday season where it’s your first.

Holiday seasons are hard anyway. Sure, there’s all the joy and magic, but there’s a lot of grown up work behind the scenes to make that magic. Its expensive, too. I’ve read for years that there’s more suicides around the new year than at any other time of year. That may be being a little dramatic, but there’s no question that, from a mental health perspective, the holidays can tax us all to the limit and beyond.

It’s not just a question of preparing to make a holiday magical for children on a single income (potentially one cut down even further because of the attorney’s fees you’re paying). It’s maybe even being alone, especially if this is your first Christmas where your ex has the kids on Christmas morning. It may be your first attending the family festivities without your husband and kids, too. While the kids can be frustrating, it’s probably better than your Aunt Edith tsk tsking at you, or asking whether you’ve met anyone new, or, even worse, telling you how much she just always loved your ex. Hey, at least the kids meant that you were up to your eyeballs dealing with their shenanigans, not dealing with annoying, embarrassing, offensive, or hurtful comments from adults (who, frankly, should know better).

Then, there are the alone moments, too. If you and your ex share kids in common, you’re going to find – at some point – that you don’t have the kids at A-list holiday times. Whether, for you, that means Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, or Thanksgiving dinner, or New Year’s Eve, or something different – hey, we’re all practicing different religions and celebrating different holidays – it was always going to be a difficult experience.

I encourage my clients not to think of holidays as dates on a calendar. I know that can be challenging, especially if you’ve never had to come up with alternate ways of celebrating, but, at the same time, it’s a sanity-saver.


You can spend time writing letters to Santa and inviting him to visit your house on a different night instead. You can open presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning. You can make Boxing Day your new Christmas Day. Whatever – there really aren’t any limits.

Since you were already making all of the magic anyway, you still have the power to make the magic on a different day. It may feel different for you in the short term, but, over the long term, I think you’ll find that your kids joy and happiness isn’t impacted by celebrating the holiday on a different day. If anything, it’s possible that celebrating this way means that you can celebrate longer.

And the same goes for you, too. You can look for your own new traditions. Maybe you’ve got a girlfriend who won’t have her kids this year, either. Maybe you can go to your parent’s house anyway. Maybe you’ll start seeing someone new. Maybe – just maybe – you can use the time to catch up on wrapping, watch holiday movies, and sip cocoa alone, preparing for the time when your kids will come back.  There are worse things, right?

I know it’s not easy to think about now, and the wounds are still fresh.  Make some time to talk to a therapist about it if you’re really struggling, and do your best to come up with alternatives.  There’s absolutely no reason to scrap meaningful holiday traditions just because you don’t have the kids 100% of the time.  Now is the time to be flexible and come up with alternatives that will work for you.

For my family, because of my husband’s work schedule, that’s something we’ve always had to do.  Sure, there are times that it feels sort of sad, but it’s really only me who notices.  And, as the mom, it’s my job to focus on making the holidays magical.  I work so hard to make sure that no one feels sad that I barely have time to feel sad myself.  And I’m always looking for activities we can do during the time that we do have.  If anything, the limited nature of the time makes everything feel that much more precious.

There’s no rule that says holiday traditions have to look a certain way and, by sticking to the way it used to be, you’re setting yourself up for more grief than necessary. That’s not to say that finding the new way forward will be easy. In some ways, it’ll probably feel like you’ve given up a lot. But, with a good attitude, some healing, and a little holiday magic, I think you’ll find that things – eventually – feel as good as ever. Maybe even better, because now you have the freedom to shape your own happy ever after.

For more information, or to request a copy of our custody book for Virginia moms, give our office a call at 757-425-5200 or visit our website at hoflaw.com.