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Is That a Parenting Plan in Your Holiday Stocking?

    Twas the night before Christmas and all through the
house...parents were rereading parenting plans...

    Holidays inevitably lead to conflicts regarding interpretation of parenting time agreements.  If you have just separated or gone through a divorce, it is likely that you have spent a considerable amount of time and money either negotiating or litigating a parenting time schedule for your children.  You have either had a judge issue orders or you have engaged a skilled mediator to help you arrive at a mutually agreed upon schedule.  Either way, orders are in place, and it is assumed that they are in the best interests of the children absent an unexpected substantial change in circumstance (ie, your former spouse has been charged with a sex offense).  In the event that you believe there has been a substantial change in circumstances, contact a lawyer immediately.  You may need to seek temporary emergency orders.  

    You have seen the photos of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis on holiday with their children and new spouses/partners.  Very few parents are able to manage this type of blissful post-separation relationship with their former spouses/partners.  With that in mind, I offer some tips for helping you through the holidays if you are sharing parenting time with your former partner or spouse (and you are neither Demi Moore nor Bruce Willis).

    1.    Children are resilient.  They will thrive in both of your homes provided that you give them the opportunity to feel safe loving each of you.  Never speak negatively about the other parent in the presence of the children (even if he/she speaks negatively about you).  It may make you feel better (albeit very briefly), but it will only serve to damage your relationship with your child.  Do engage the services of a child psychologist if your children report negative talk to you.  It is important for children to have a safe place to discuss these issues and a licensed therapist is the best person to confront the badly behaving parent.

    2.    Do not relive the pitfalls of your marriage/relationship with your children.  Your children did not choose for you to be separated or divorced.  Your children will only have one mother and one father.  They love both of you, and for the most part, are incredibly forgiving of your faults. 

    3.    Acknowledge your child's anxieties and stresses about spending time with the other parent, but always speak positively about their time away and send them off with a smile and a "have a fabulous time!"  Do let them take toys/blankies or any other special item from home to help with the transition. 

    4.    Do not put the burden of your anticipated loneliness on your child.  Children often are placed in the position of "parenting" their parents through the holidays.  Do not make your child feel guilty because he/she is not going to be with you.  Do not call your child incessantly. Give them the freedom to have fun with their other parent. Similarly, do not gloat if you are the custodial parent during the holidays.  Gloating is simply an ugly character trait.

    5.    Do make sure that your child calls the non-custodial parent as outlined in the parenting agreement even if that means interrupting an activity. Better yet, do not schedule fun activities that coincide with court ordered telephone calls. You do not want the children to feel resentful for being interrupted.  Give them privacy when calling the non-custodial parent.  Do not set time limits on phone calls.

    6.    Do honor and treasure past memories of the family unit together.  Children do not want to "erase" either mom or dad from their memories.

    7.    Create new memories.  Children do not count the days they spend with each parent, they "count" the good times. 

    8.    Go out of your way to encourage the children to do something special for the non-custodial parent.  Create a home-made card, tape a holiday song, or create a piece of pottery for them to take home.
    9.    If you are the non-custodial parent this holiday, do not mope at home.  Treat yourself to new release at the movie theater, pick up a new book at the library, enjoy an extra long work-out, a hike, or a bike ride.  Enjoy the reprieve of a quiet house.  Soak in the tub.

    10.    Abide by the terms of your parenting agreement.  Do not be late for an exchange.  Do not push the envelope or try to poke holes in your agreement.  Do not call the police if your ex is minimally late.  The last thing children want to remember is the Christmas Eve that they had a police escort.

    Remember that you chose to make a child with your former spouse/partner.  You are connected to your former spouse/partner for the rest of your life as a result of your children.  There will be high school graduations, marriages, and grandchildren in your future.  Create a positive foundation for the future starting now.  Reread the parenting time plan prior to the holidays, and don't wait until the last moment to work out any anticipated conflicts or confusion.  Contact your lawyer right away if you need help interpreting your agreement, and keep in mind that a Judge or mediator is not particularly interested in what you want.  The focus should always be what is best for your children.

See more articles by Lisa Abrams

Lisa Abrams is a partner in Karp Weiss , a Tucson law firm. She specializes in Family Law and she can be reached at 520 325 4200  or labrams@karpweiss.com She has first hand experience as the child of divorced parents.

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