Custody and the Christmas Holidays

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While the rest of us are shopping, decorating, baking, and happily anticipating the Christmas holiday season, Family Court Judges dread the approach of this otherwise cheerful holiday season. Why?  Because of the bitter battles which erupt between divorced or separate parents over holiday custody schedules.  Parents who can at least tolerate each other during the rest of the year are often willing to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in attorney fees (or if they represent themselves, many hours of time appearing and arguing in court themselves), trying to get a judge to set up their preferred Christmas holiday custody schedule for the children.

Other parents simply duke it out between themselves by telephone calls, text messages, emails, or, unfortunately, by having the children carry messages back and forth to the other parent.  Hostility and anger rule the day.  Having the kids wake up in their home on Christmas morning, whether or not they still believe in Santa Claus, is usually the polestar of these disputes.  Often grandparents and other family members get embroiled in these disputes as well.

Very few parents keep their feelings to themselves; they frequently share their feelings and frustrations about holiday custody (and the other parent) with the children. Unfortunately for the children, these pitched battles between their parents over holiday custody are what they remember most clearly in later years.

It’s extremely hard for separated or divorced parents to accept the fact that their children will not get to share with them those moments which mimic those happy Christmas holiday memories they carry with them from their childhood.  In addition, many of those parents are still nursing a grudge against the other parent for leaving them, and many of them are willing to fight a proxy battle over the children just to punish the other parent, particularly over custody during the holiday season, where they calculate it will wound the other parent the most.

If you see yourself or your loved ones described above, do yourself (or them) a favor.  Do your best to put your own desires (needs?) aside, learn to be flexible, and try to figure out a way to work up a new set of holiday traditions with your children which doesn’t involve fighting with the other parent. If the other parent is in fact one of those “terrorist” parents who will use any advantage to try to hurt you through the children, particularly during the Christmas holidays, under the theory that this will hurt the most (giving them the psychic revenge they are craving), seek counseling for yourself (and the children), read up on how to deal with an obstreperous parent-opponent, and, if necessary, give in to what you think are unreasonable demands.

I attended a meeting of a local group of Family lawyers, judges and psychologists not long ago in which two young adults in their 20’s who were involved in bitter custody disputes as children spoke about the experience.  One of these two young adults, one no longer has any contact with the “terrorist parent,” who inflicted psychological pain on her, her parent and siblings, throughout her youth.  The other young adult spoke movingly about his father, the patient parent, who also had only partial custody of him during his younger years.  His father never spoke ill of his mother, who on the other hand spoke bitterly about his father in his presence.  His father was forced to do all of the transportation for his periods of custody, got minimal holiday custody periods, and was otherwise the patient and long-suffering underdog in the long custody battle.  His father, who also attended, said that he didn’t mind doing all of the transportation, because he managed to make time in the car with the children quality time. Needless to say, the young adult in question was much closer to his father than to his mother.

In the end, the love and respect of your children is the  ultimate prize worth seeking. Remember that  for the holiday season and do your best to make happy memories with the children during the time you have.

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