The holidays are upon us, and for family law attorneys, that means clients who need extra support in navigating co-parenting arrangements. Added stress can come during this season in the form of disruption to the normal time-sharing schedule with children, multiple family gatherings, pressure from extended family, travel, and financial strain. Give your clients a little extra cheer with these tips and reminders to support a healthy holiday season.

Start planning early. Although many custody orders delineate who the child shares time with during a given holiday, they don’t often specify a time for an exchange. Remind clients to get specific about details when it comes to holidays that might demand a tight timeframe, such as Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This is especially important when one parent may need to travel out of town, with or without children. Ask clients to think through all the logisitics of the day, and to create a buffer if possible for things like traffic and airport delays.

Learn to flex. Even the best-laid plans fall through. The holiday season brings a lot of moving parts, and it can be difficult to predict and control things like traffic, a meal served late, or a holiday service that runs longer than anticipated. Remind clients that patience, a sense of humor, and perspective are key.

Communicate with kids. Nobody loves a holiday more than a child. Remind clients to help their children prepare for the holidays by letting them know clearly what the plan will be for them to share time with family and friends. Clients should let them know where they will be, and who they will get to celebrate with — predictability is key to keeping stress levels manageable. Clients should acknowledge the ways that this holiday season may differ from those in the past, and give children an opportunity to talk about their feelings. They should also assure them that Hanukkah Harry and/or Santa will know where to find them!

Don’t try to split the baby. Encourage clients to consider the quality of the child’s experience, rather than prioritize splitting time equally. In order to build meaningful memories and traditions, children need an opportunity to help with preparation and planning, as well as time to enjoy an experience without the disruption of a custody exchange. If possible, clients should plan holiday exchanges in blocks of 24 hours or longer.

Share the gifts. Suggest that clients consider collaborating on gift-giving for children. Whether that means buying gifts jointly — which can send a powerful and positive message — or sharing a wish list in order to avoid duplication, communicating about gifts that children will receive is good planning.

Spread the joy. The holidays, while sometimes fraught, are meant to be a time of peace and reflection. Remind clients to take a breath and try to remember that despite some inevitable bumps in the road, this is an opportunity to practice being generous of spirit and gracious with each other. Clients should also consider setting expectations with family and friends so there is no disparaging the absent co-parent in front of their children. Finally, clients should acknowledge that being away from one’s children is difficult — practicing self-care is very important as well.

Encourage clients to be intentional about creating meaningful opportunities for children to build memories and deepen their connection to family and friends. That’s the true gift of the holidays!

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