If you have been through a divorce or never married, but you have a child custody and visitation agreement or order in place, check out our blog post on holiday visitation tips for divorced parents.
What do you do for the holidays if you have not gone to court or don’t have an agreement or order for custody and visitation in place? Not having a written agreement or legal order in place presents questions for parents as they head into Thanksgiving and Christmas. As someone who has received more than my fair share of phone calls from fretting parents about holiday visitation during separation, I have some suggestions. To be clear, I am not giving legal advice or strategy here for your specific case, and this article does not create an attorney, client relationship. If you need holiday visitation advice tailored to your family, please reach out to your lawyer.
Now what to do about a holiday visitation schedule? Many folks try not to think about it. They may not be talking to their soon-to-be-ex-spouse (STBX), except through family members or attorneys. Most people fear the worst. If you are on speaking terms, this might be a time to sit down and talk through how you would like to split time with your children over the holidays. This year is a year of change; traditions may need to be adjusted, as well as logistics. If you can, and you feel safe doing so, you can always meet with your STBX in a public place, with witnesses nearby if that would help. People tend to behave better in a public restaurant than they might in their own living room.
Let’s say negotiating a holiday visitation schedule one on one is not in the cards. You don’t trust your STBX, or you feel like you need a referee. In this situation, mediation could help. Mediation is the next, most cost-effective option, and it is a good way to try to work through at least a temporary plan for holiday visitation, if not a child custody and visitation agreement that could work for your family year after year. A mediator will also have experience dealing with families and writing plans that include holidays. They can help foresee trouble spots and assist you in crafting a written agreement with enough detail for everyone to stay on track. You only need the level of detail that your family requires. Some people just need “you get Christmas Eve, I get Christmas day in even years.” Other people need to plan specific drop-off times and locations. Be realistic about what will help things run smoothly, with your children’s needs in mind. Some families include activities together as well or specify certain family members will [or will not] be in attendance. Other families, due to the time and space between extended families, will need to alternate holiday visitation year by year.
Okay, so you are on the good list this year. You tried. You met in person or talked with a mediator, and somewhere you and your STBX got stuck. This might be the time to circle back to your attorney; they will be able to convey your wishes and negotiate for you to your STBX’s attorney. Sometimes attorneys can “make a deal” for holiday child visitation the parents can’t get together themselves, sometimes on similar terms, which is why you pay them with your Great Aunt’s Fruitcake! But what if they can’t…
There is hope, one day soon in the future, your divorce will be finalized and you can move on to the next chapter of your life. In that chapter, you will have a clear idea of how holidays should run. Tensions generally are lower with each passing year. Here is the best news: the holidays happen every year. So even if you don’t get the chance to spend them the way you’d like this year, it just helps you make the case for why you should get a better child custody holiday schedule next year. Deep breath! It stinks, I know. I have held a lot of hands on this issue. You will get through it. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself. Don’t stay home and wallow. Find a relative or friend to wallow with. Go to dinner. Have a drink or see a movie. Distract yourself as best you can, and the New Year will be here before you know it.
Good luck working on your holiday visitation schedule. Remember I am here if you need me, and have the happiest holidays that you can.