It’s that time of year again and as I am writing this blog, Thanksgiving has already passed, Chanukkah is around the corner and Christmas is less than 3 weeks away. Apart from the hustle and bustle of shopping and pre-holiday gatherings, for some families, the idea of planning their own family holiday celebrations goes beyond the normal logistical hassles. For those of you whose parenting has been affected by separation, divorce and/or the resulting conflict, you probably know what I am referring to. Yes, it’s the added stress, strain and disappointment that often come when your plans to spend at least part of the holidays with your children do not materialize as expected. What should be a happy and fun time of the year – even with the normal hassles – is instead met with a sense of frustration, anger and loss when you aren’t able to share this time with your children.
Each year like clockwork, starting the day before Thanksgiving and continuing up until the day of Christmas Eve, I get calls from parents who are struggling to see their children during the holidays as they had hoped. They are sad, frustrated, disappointed and yes, also angry that what they had hoped would happen, looks like it will not. Common threads in all these calls are:
• A failure to plan ahead and formalize holiday plans with the other parent
• An assumption that the holidays will be shared as you had imagined they would
• An assumption that even when there is conflict between parents, goodwill will prevail and the conflict would be set aside during the holiday period for the sake of the children
Even when holiday timesharing is spelled out in an agreement or court order, this may not guarantee that parents engaged in ongoing custody disputes will necessarily comply. Unfortunately, holiday access periods are notorious for being sabotaged by parents who fail to recognize the value that sharing these important times with both parents holds for children. For some of these parents, denying holiday access time for children and the other parent is often a powerful tool in the alienating process. The challenge remains – what to do about this?
As always, in high conflict custody disputes there is no way to assure that the other parent will cooperate or comply with agreements or orders. But there are things you can do to increase the chances that your holiday plans will go on as expected. Here are some things to consider:
• Confirm holiday access plans well in advance. By that I mean, if you don’t have an agreement or a court order, make sure your holiday access plans are firmed up some time in October. If done verbally, this should be followed by an email or some other documented service such as MyTurnYourTurn.com
• Even if you do have an agreement or court order, re-confirm holiday access plans also some time in October. As above, make sure your plans are documented.
• If you suspect any unreasonable resistance from the other parent, take action sooner than later. Remember, family law attorneys may wind down their schedules early. As well, the courts tend to be backlogged in December and getting a last-minute hearing to decide access may not be possible.
• Resist sharing details of your holiday plans with the children until you have confirmation that your access plans will proceed. It’s not the children’s fault when one parent is non-compliant.
Early action when planning and/or confirming holiday access time may prevent bigger problems later. At the very least, it will give you the time and opportunity to pursue legal options (if needed) to deal with unwarranted resistance from the other parent. Finally, by taking care of holiday access plans early, this may prevent the other parent from sharing his/her holiday plans with the children that may result in their own resistance to spending time with you.
Here’s wishing you health, happiness and peace during this holiday season!
Reena Sommer, Ph.D.
Guest Blogger for My Turn Your Turn
About Reena Sommer
Trial consultant specializing in high conflict custody cases involving parental alienation and false allegations of sexual abuse. For more information, check out my website – http://www.custodytrialconsultants.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 281-534-3923 . Inquiries welcome.