Whether or not your current custody order specifies how visitation will be handled during the holiday season, it’s likely that you and your husband will have some disagreements about how it should be handled in practice. “Tradition” may seem more important to you than your separation agreement or even a court order, but your ex (or soon to be ex) may disagree, particularly now that he is no longer a part of those traditions of previous years.
It may be true that the children always spent Christmas morning with you at your parent’s house. It may be true that you have always cooked Christmas Eve dinner. It may be true that the children have NEVER been away from you on the holidays. For divorced (or divorcing) parents, though, traditions will probably have to change in order to incorporate both parents.
It may be a little late, but often the best course of action is to handle these things, in excruciating detail, in your separation agreement. (If a judge determined custody and visitation in your case, it’s not likely that he or she was willing to go into excruciating detail with you.) This way, you address any issues that are likely to come up BEFORE Christmas rolls around and you and your ex are in an uncomfortable, un-festive, and unbecoming standoff in front of the children on Christmas Eve. After all, you know full well that Christmas is on December 25th, no matter what time of year you happen to draft your separation agreement. It’s a good idea to plan early, and plan well so that both of you know what’s going to happen each year.
Maybe your separation agreement is already signed, and you’re dreading that countdown to Christmas because you know that standoff is coming. It’s a good idea to go ahead and call your ex early and make a plan. It’s not fun, but the earlier you plan your holiday, the more relaxed everyone will be. Divide the time up so that both of you get a chance to celebrate with the children, if possible. In most of the separation agreements I draft, I divide the Winter Break from school into two pieces—one parent gets from the time school lets out until December 26th at a pre-determined time, and the other gets from December 26th until the children return to school in January (that way, the parent who doesn’t get Christmas gets New Year’s and a slightly longer time with the children). Even if your agreement doesn’t divide things exactly this way, you may be able to negotiate this arrangement with your ex.
If worst comes to worst, it may be best to bury the hatchet and celebrate together. Particularly if it’s your first divorced Christmas, it may do the children a world of good to see that the two of you can put on your happy faces for their sake. Holidays are all about family and, divorced or not, sharing children makes you family.
Don’t open up hostilities too early. The more cooperative the two of you can be, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to divide the holidays so that both of you are relatively happy.