The holiday season is upon us. What should be a time of year full of celebration, tradition, and spending quality time with family and friends, full of joy and happiness, can often also create stress and conjure feelings of anxiety. For parents who have recently separated or divorced, sharing time with your children during this season can be particularly emotional and somber, but with a little planning, this does not have to be the case. Instead, as we enter this holiday season, make the holidays with your children a joyous celebration by embracing your new family dynamic, understanding your holiday parenting schedule, and planning ahead.

New Family Dynamic

When couples make the decision to add children to their family, you envision your future, especially LGBT couples who often have to pursue alternative reproductive technologies. You imagine a future full of celebrations—birthdays, holidays, and other momentous events. All of which you imagine celebrating as one family. Rarely, if ever, do couples anticipate the possibility that their family might share custody of their children between two households. But for many separated or divorced parents, this is exactly what you will have to manage this holiday season.

As you embark on this holiday season, whether you are recently separated or have been divorced for some time, it is common to have a few somber moments in which you recall how you imagined the future for your family and consider how different it is from what you had envisioned. This is to be expected and it is important to acknowledge this feeling of loss or disappointment so you can embrace the future. Although the future may not be as you had planned, it does not mean the holidays cannot be full of joy and cheer. Think of this holiday season as an opportunity to create new traditions, to attend different celebrations, and to create new memories and dreams for the future with your children.

The Holiday Schedule

However, before you begin making plans for your holiday festivities, you should understand and consider your holiday parenting schedule. A Custody Order or Agreement should set forth both “regular” parenting time and “holiday” parenting time. In most Orders and Agreements, holiday parenting time will supersede regular parenting time. This means your typical parenting schedule will be replaced with the holiday schedule and the regular parenting schedule will resume after the holidays.

A typical holiday parenting schedule will alternate the holidays between parents. For example, one parent may have parenting time for the Thanksgiving holiday in even numbered years and the other will have parenting time in odd numbered years. For parents with school-age children, December holiday parenting time will often coincide with school’s winter break. Generally, one parent will have holiday parenting time from the time school recesses to sometime on Christmas Day and the other will have parenting time from Christmas Day to the time school resumes. Since most school breaks are different year to year, it is important to compare your Order or Agreement with this year’s school calendar.

Understanding your holiday schedule and how it affects your regular parenting time, before the start of the holiday season, will hopefully alleviate some of the anxiety surrounding your holidays. Remember, your attorney is a great resource to answer any questions you may have about your Custody Order or Agreement. If you have concerns, contact your attorney sooner than later. Addressing issues in advance will certainly reduce stress.

Plan Ahead

As you prepare for the holiday season and you are unpacking your decorations, think about also pulling out your Custody Order or Agreement to review your schedule. To help navigate the days ahead, print calendars for the months of November, December, and January. Take a moment to mark your “regular” parenting schedule on the calendars, and then mark over it the “holiday” parenting time. Remember, in most Orders and Agreements, holiday parenting time supersedes (or replaces) regular parenting time; it does not restart regular parenting time. Since a disagreement over the holiday parenting schedule can bring unwanted stress to the holidays, it is important to communicate with the other parent about your time with the children and agree to the upcoming schedule well in advance of the holidays.

Conclusion

Before the holiday season is in full swing, separated or divorced parents should take an opportunity to acknowledge the emotional impact of sharing time with their children during the holidays. Remember to think of this holiday season as an opportunity to create new traditions, and to create great new memories with your children. To reduce anxiety and stress, understand your holiday parenting schedule and plan ahead. Let’s make this holiday season a joyous celebration. From our families to yours, we wish you and your family, joy and happiness!

info: Amanda Brisson Cannavo is a family law attorney at Sodoma Law, P.C. of Charlotte, N.C. She focuses on divorce, separation, custody and child support. Amanda holds board admissions in both North Carolina and South Carolina and she has been actively working with the LGBTQ community throughout her career.