When couples with children divorce, the issue of child custody is often the most important matter to resolve. Courts recognize the importance to children of having both parents play a significant role in their lives, and absent some compelling reason such as child abuse or abandonment, the courts usually favor some form of joint custody. Although typically one parent will have primary custody to promote stability for the children in their home and school life, exchanges of the children between parents are often frequent. For instance, a typical visitation arrangement might be for the children to see the noncustodial parent every other weekend and one night during the week.
Holiday and break times are normally shared as well, including summer vacation and spring, fall and winter breaks. These times can prove particularly difficult for parents and children, especially soon after a divorce and before a natural rhythm has been established for custody, visitation and parenting time. In many ways, Winter Break can be the most stressful time of all. Christmas and Hanukkah fall within this period, and parents and children alike can find increased anxiety as they negotiate their emotions associated with these holidays. As Christmas and Hanukkah are both major gift-giving holidays, it is important for parents to consider how the gifts they give will be received. If possible, communication ahead of time between the parents can be key to making sure that gifts aren’t duplicated and that the parents do not find themselves engaging in an unconscious competition for their children’s affections based on the value of the gifts. Parents may even consider giving one or more large gifts “jointly” from the two, regardless of which house the child is at when he or she opens the present.
For large or expensive gifts, it is also important to consider where the gift will be stored and whether it would be practical or desirable to allow the child to transport the present back and forth between domiciles. A gift of a pet or musical instrument is probably something that should be discussed between the parents before purchasing.
Whether holiday times were traditionally joyous or stressful occasions when the family was together, this new family dynamic has the potential to create additional stress, but with open communication and thoughtful consideration of the other parent as well as the children, holidays and break times can be a chance to show how families can function post-divorce, with peace and goodwill to all.