Top 5 Tips to Manage Divorce and the Holidays

Learn how to manage the holidays before and after a divorce

How do you handle the holidays during a divorce?

Regardless of your faith, religion or traditions, we all know how challenging divorce and the holidays can be.

Graphic of different icons representing holidays

Every year, people look forward to the holidays because it is a time with family.

What happens when, "divorce happens?"

With divorce, the family will not be together because the parents separated and the the separation disrupted a status quo and traditions that may go back years or decades depending on the marriage's length.

The good news is this - it doesn't have to be complicated or stressful.

If you follow our five part survival guide, the holidays will not only be tolerable but the divorce you are going through will not ruin this important time of the year.

Table of Contents for the Divorce and Holiday Survival Guide

Here are the topics we will cover. If you want to scroll ahead, click on the images to do so.

Get a predictable holiday schedule in your child custody order

Too many divorcing parents "wing it" with the holiday schedule.

Most of the time, it does not work and conflict arises when mom or dad both want Christmas day or eve or have made plans with their own side of the family, without consulting with the other.

Graphic of schedule or checklist

A schedule makes the holidays easier.

A schedule typically splits the holidays equally on an odd and even year basis.

For example, Christmas day will be dad on even years and mom on odd years.

The parents may flip Christmas eve the other way, if the parents do not want to combine it.

That means every year, one parent has eve and the other has day. The same is true about New Year's Eve and Day.

All of this will depend on the children's ages and the family's proximity.

Parents who live a few miles or a short distance from each other handle such a schedule easier than parents who live in different states.

Either way, a set schedule saves argument, stress and misunderstandings.

Patience avoids overreaction during the holidays

Next to having a schedule, nothing is more important than patience. The holidays are going to be different when you go through a divorce. The children will adjust to that difference.

Unless there is something unusual about your situation, we consistently see parents who communicate well make the holidays work out better than they initially expected.

Graphic of man and woman meditating

What is the "unusual" situation?

Parents who are high conflict (one or both of them) are not only impatient but they are combative.

When you add the holidays to a pending high conflict divorce, it creates excessive and unnecessary conflict.

Don't freak out because the kids ask questions or complain

Don't blame your ex-spouse. Ask your ex-spouse to maintain a united front with the kids so neither of you bad mouth or blame the other.

The holidays are not just about you and your enjoyment. Your children are a big part of this.

If you want to maximize their "good cheer" then you have to maximize your patience with their adjustment to sharing the holidays separately with your family and that of your ex-spouse.

If you do this, the holidays will get easier and even more enjoyable with the passing time. How do we know this? Because we see it all the time.

Don't take on too many tasks

It is hard enough going through a divorce; do you also have to host the gathering, do all of the cooking and preparing and take front and center responsibility for every detail?

We sometimes have to speak with our clients about slowing down and doing less.

They call us stressed out because they are trying to do the work of two or more people during the holiday season. They want to make everything "perfect," which is unrealistic.

This is often a self-inflicted and unnecessary workload and stress.

Here are some tips, especially when going through a divorce around the holidays.

Graphic of two exhausted women
  1. You are going through an adjustment period. It's time to ask for help and delegate. Ask your friends, parents or siblings for help.
  2. If there is nobody to whom you can delegate, cut out the non-essential tasks. The keep it simple principle is a mantra for parents who are going through a divorce during the holidays.
  3. Learn to say no if the other parent wants to deviate from court orders but that deviation will add to your tasks or stress. Court orders are directives, not suggestions.
  4. If you on the other hand need small adjustments to the court order during the holidays, contact your attorney. Ask him or her to reach out to your spouse's (or ex-spouse's) attorney with suggestions. Perhaps your attorney can work out a temporary modification during the holidays that works well for you and your spouse / ex-spouse.
  5. Avoid court hearings or divorce related tasks around the holidays. Speak with your lawyer ahead of time and ask him or her to try and avoid case-specific tasks, if possible, during this time.

The less you have to do around the holidays, the less stressed you will be. Children can "feel" your stress and, since you are already a stressed out over your divorce, piling on will not help.

Keep to a budget when tackling divorce during the holidays

Many people overspend or overextend themselves with holiday shopping when they are married. The overcrowded malls are evidence of that.

graphic of dollar sign split in a pie shape

Is it really necessary to double down during a divorce? No.

The holidays are not about presents. Recognize that you are two households now. You have to be money conscious.

A divorce can be expensive if you let it be or if your spouse is high conflict. The same applies to the holidays.

When things settle down, your divorce is over and there is more certainty in your life (and finances), then perhaps you can splurge.

For now, it is better to maintain a budget for the holidays while going through a divorce.

The kids will not care whether you spend $500.00 or $1,000.00 on them. They are much better at living in the moment than you this.

Be honest about your emotions

You know what happens when you bottle up those emotions and will not share? You implode…eventually, that is.

Here is something you already know but probably will not admit. The emotions you are going through as a result of the divorce and the holidays are perfectly normal.

graphic of women together

You would be crazy if you were not going through those emotions.

Being depressed, frustrated or even angry is expected. Internalizing it until you are a time bomb is not.

Open up. Talk to family. Talk to friends. Hang around with your friends.

If you are in counseling, even better. Heck, talk to your divorce attorney if you just need reassurances that your case is going along smoothly.

When you share what you are going through, you release the tension.

You know who else will appreciate that? Your children.

They feel that tension from a mile away. For their sake, do not let it ferment.

Recap of How to Navigate the Holidays During a Divorce

We love checklists so we created this one for you that recaps what you just read about navigating he holidays during divorce.

Holiday Schedule

  • Agree with the other parent on a holiday schedule
  • Make the schedule simple to follow but specific in terms
  • Focus on the children's best interest when creating a schedule

Be Patient

  • Communicate peacefully with the other parent
  • Do not be hard on yourself or bad mouth the other parent
  • Do not freak out if it will not be as perfect as you want it

Limit Tasks

  • Delegate tasks to those who can help like friends or family
  • Cut out the noise of the other parent's whining or unreasonable demands
  • Proactively communicate with your attorney to try and avoid case related work during the holidays

Budget Spending

  • Create a budget for holiday spending that is within your means
  • Spend less on presents and parties during the divorce case
  • Realize more presents do not make the holidays better

Can you enjoy the holidays during a divorce?

Absolutely you can.

Follow our survival guide: have a visitation schedule, be patient, don't over extend yourself and your budget, and don't let those emotions sit inside and take away your joy and you are on your way to a healthy and happy holiday season.

And if you need quality representation for your California divorce case, contact us for a strategy session. We have offices in Orange County, Los Angeles and San Diego.

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