Holidays often exacerbate the sadness, grief and frustration that comes with a traumatic breakup, especially for couples that have young children and shared custodial arrangements. Disagreements over divorce proceedings, support and visitation can reach an all-time high over the holiday season and force ex-partners back into the courtroom. However, there are ways to reduce the stress of divorce during the holidays and stop negative feelings from getting the better of formerly married couples.
We always advise clients considering divorce to carefully select the time of year they initiate legal proceedings. Filing divorce papers in the midst of the holiday season is likely to cause anger and resentment, and it’s a surefire way to start the process off on the wrong foot. Although it’s not always possible to prevent divorce proceedings from taking place through the holidays, initiating them during a less stressful time of the year reduces the risk of a contentious legal battle.
Even after a divorce, it’s best not to discuss modifications in support, child custody and visitation during the holidays. Leave these fraught conversations for a more neutral time of year, such as after the new year or in the spring. Parties should also discuss any potential changes in holiday visitation and/or travel arrangements well in advance. We recommend at least three or four months ahead of time, so neither party is caught by surprise.
Divorced couples with children should maintain a detailed child support order, whether temporary or permanent. Between purchasing gifts, travel arrangements and dinner parties, the holidays can be financially straining, and that’s on top of standard costs of living, such as mortgage payments and school tuition. Managing expenses during this time of year is especially difficult for single-parent households with young children, and it is possible for the supported party to run out of money. For the payor of support, it’s important to keep a record of all payments to the supported party, including receipts and electronic correspondence, in case of any financial disagreements. However, the best way to avoid these issues is by agreeing and adhering to a comprehensive support order before the holidays.
Additionally, custody orders and judgments should always include detailed travel provisions to prevent last-minute travel outside of the country or state. Litigants should consider including provisions related to minor children vacation time, passports and emergency visitation, especially if one parent lives far away and/or travels frequently or unexpectedly. Without these provisions, unagreed upon holiday travel can trigger costly ex parte (emergency) court appearances and litigation fees.
Finally, we advise clients to have electronic copies of their stipulations and orders available on their smart phones, not only for their own personal access, but in case an order needs to be enforced by law. Ideally, both parties will follow court orders with no issue. However, the holidays can be especially challenging and must be approached with the appropriate precautions.
Although the end-of-year holiday rush is particularly stressful, there are holidays throughout the year that can cause tension, including Valentine’s Day, birthdays and old anniversaries. Formerly married parties should be mindful of the emotions these dates bring up and save delicate discussions for another time. However, any divorced couple can survive the holidays if they follow court orders, communicate plans in advance and are conscientious of their ex-partner’s feelings.