THE HOLIDAYS. For some people, the holidays are a joyous, festive, and happy time of the year – filled with family, friends, and well wishes. For the rest of us, the holidays are stressful, hectic, and at times depressing. Another year has come and gone – little has changed. I am a year older. I have not lost those 20 pounds I swore I would lose at the beginning of the year – and now I have to lose that 20 plus an additional 15! Ahh yes….. the holidays.
For those people on the midst of a divorce these feelings can be exacerbated and even compounded further when children are involved. During a divorce or immediately following, will be the first time children and both parents are not celebrating the holidays together. Old traditions may be broken. No longer will certain in-laws be seen, some you may have actually liked. This can be hard on everyone involved, especially the children.
Children will be separated from at least one of their parents during – Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and/or New Year’s Eve, New Years Day. This can be a shock to any child and any parent. The child and/or parent may finally realize that the divorce is for real. Hopefully both parents are going to want to be there to comfort their child during this difficult time.
For parents who are divorced already these decisions should be in the final custody and parenting time agreement or the judgment of divorce. During the pendency of a divorce the parents will negotiate. Coming to an amicable agreement is best, but if that isn’t possible, either party has the option of filing a motion and letting a judge decide. Even though the children may have spent every Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the mother’s family during the marriage, parents involved in custody controversies have by statute been granted both equal rights and equal responsibilities regarding the care, nurture, education and welfare of their children. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 9:2-4. Aside from any special considerations, a judge will likely try to resolve the issue in a manner that is fair to both parents and the children. Often, making everyone happy is an impossibility.
In the long term, this standard could result in joint custody with the parents switching holidays on an annual basis. But the most troublesome aspect of a joint custody decree is the additional requirement that the parent exhibit a potential for cooperation in matters of child rearing. This aspect does not translate into a requirement that the parents have an amicable relationship. Although such a positive relationship is preferable, a successful joint custody arrangement requires only that the parents be able to isolate their personal conflicts from their roles as parents and that the children be spared whatever resentments and rancor the parents may harbor.
This is when parents have the opportunity to make a child’s transition from celebrating the holidays as a family unit to celebrating the holidays separately with each parent as easy and stress free as possible. Whatever the parents decide, remember that the holidays may not be a joyous, festive, and happy time of the year for you, but they should be for your children.