Picture of couple fithghing outside

Navigating Holiday Custody: A Lawyer’s Guide to Keeping the Peace

Child custody cases usually stretch out longer than anyone expects, especially over the holidays. Even when everyone’s trying to play nice, these things can balloon into something out of “War and Peace.” And it’s not just the court stuff that drags on. After the judge bangs the gavel, there’s the whole song and dance of actually following the new custody and visitation plans.

Around the holidays, this can get even trickier. Say your ex agreed in July for you to take the kids to your folks’ place for Christmas. Fast forward to December, and suddenly, they’re not so keen on the idea anymore. School’s out, travel plans are looming, and tensions are high. What can you do? 

Well the good news is that after doing this for nearly 25 years I’ve got solutions and ways to avoid holiday custody battles!

Keeping the Festive Spirit Alive

Well the good news is that after doing this for nearly 25 years I’ve got solutions and ways to avoid holiday custody wrinkles!

1. Detail the Holiday Schedule

In most Minnesota custody agreements, you will be crystal clear about what “the holidays” mean. Does “Christmas” mean just the 25th, or the whole week? It’s one thing to say one parent gets Christmas Eve and the other Christmas Day. It’s another to nail down the exact start and end times. Clarity is your best friend here.

If you don’t have a clear agreement, you have a few options, the first is to approach your ex and really talk about going forward how you will agree to proceed.  Maybe tackle the entire holiday schedule, from Christmas and MEA and Thanksgiving as well.

2. Understand Your Ex’s Stress

This may sound like I’m defending your Ex.  I’m not!  But, remember, your ex is probably as wound up and stressed about holiday schedules as you are. They might have new husbands or wives as well as new step-children.  The holidays are always tough. Usually, though, they’re not out to ruin your plans (well, not always). They might just be mixed up or forgot what was agreed upon. A little empathy goes a long way.

It’s called “modeling behavior,” and oftentimes, if you go in and try your best to be reasonable, they might just act the same way!

3. Think Outside the Box

If you’re both flexible, think about considering unconventional solutions. How about the kids stay in one spot, and you and your ex take turns being with them? Less shuffling around for the kids could mean less stress all around.

This doesn’t always work, but maybe you can change holiday weekends to a time that works more with your schedule.  What kid wouldn’t want to have two days of opening presents!?

Deep Dive into Holiday Custody

4. Be Flexible with Traditions

Post-divorce, holiday traditions might need a tweak. Be open to new ways of celebrating that fit your custody situation. Creating new traditions can be a positive experience for everyone, especially the kids.

Maybe you always went to your mother’s house on the 24th? Well, that can change! Just be open to new traditions and you might find that your Ex is as well.

5. Kids’ Voices Matter

Depending on their age, your kids might have their own holiday preferences. If you have a 16-year-old who wants to spend time with her boyfriend, you’ll find that she won’t be much fun to be around during the holidays if you take her away! Listen to them. Feeling heard can help them navigate the holiday season more comfortably.

By the same token, don’t ask your 5-year-old if they want to spend New Year’s Eve with mom or dad. That’s not fair to them, the answer will be they want to spend time with both of you!  Be aware of your kids age and maturity level and don’t put them in the middle of the adults fight.

6. Communication is Crucial

Clear, ongoing communication can’t be overstated. This means talking things through and actually listening to each other. Compromise is often the name of the game.

This might mean using OFW (Our Family Wizard) or texting or emailing, but be clear and don’t assume anything!  

7. Legal Stuff Matters

Sometimes, you might need to revisit your custody agreement for holiday-specific issues. Know your rights and responsibilities, and if things get tough, don’t hesitate to seek legal advice.

What I often say is that you agree on anything you’d like, but you need to agree on it!  If you can’t agree then you fall back to the custody/parenting time order and that may or may not be what you would prefer, but you need to make sure you read the order!

8. Expect the Unexpected

Holidays can be full of surprises. Be ready to adapt. Keeping the kids’ best interests at heart is key.  If your ex won a trip to Disney World and it is over your holiday, if you say no are you hurting yourself or your kids?

It’s hard to let your Ex feel like the good guy or gal, but keep the kids in mind and it will help guide your decisions.

9. Reduce the Fighting

In the middle of this holiday custody dance, don’t forget about your own well-being. Staying calm and collected is important for creating a positive environment for your kids.

Try and avoid fighting in front of the kids as well as making nasty comments about your kid’s mother or father.  It might not seem like a big thing, but kids really listen to everything.

10. Lean on Your Support Network

Having people to talk to during the holidays can be a lifesaver. Friends, family, or parent support groups can offer invaluable support.

11. Embrace the Holiday Spirit

Finally, remember what the holidays are really about – kindness, generosity, and goodwill. Let these values guide your actions and decisions.

Wrapping It Up

Navigating holiday custody isn’t always easy, but with clear communication, a bit of flexibility, and a focus on what’s best for the kids, it can be managed. Remember, the holidays are about creating happy memories, and with a little effort, you can make sure that’s exactly what happens.