by attorney Tammy Oliver with Moskovitz, McGhee, Brown, Cohen & Moore
For parents in the midst of divorce, or post-divorce litigation, the holiday season, and thereby the holiday schedule, can be difficult to navigate. The majority of parents probably do not contemplate the challenges associated with a parenting plan when those bundles of joy arrive. Conceptually, the division of property is a concept that is “easy” to grasp, while the division of children is frankly, unnatural and seemingly unfair to most parents. The term “splitting the baby” comes from the story of King Solomon, who was approached by two women who claimed to be the mother of the same child. In an effort to determine the truth of the matter, King Solomon declared that he would “split the baby,” affording each mother her own share. Of course, this is not a feasible solution, but during a divorce, particularly during the holidays, parents would seemingly suggest just about anything to have the desired schedule. Moreover, the holidays inherently bring about heightened emotions, increased anxiety, and oftentimes, a financial burden, all of which are exacerbated during a divorce, or post-divorce litigation. The natural psychological and physiological reaction to stress is fight or flight, and given that divorce is often a result of conflict, parents’ reaction tends toward the fight. In an effort to avoid the additional expenditure of emotions, resources and time, which naturally arise when “splitting the baby,” parents must plan, prepare, and, in the spirit of the holiday season, be present.
Whether this is the first season to share the children, or the parenting plan has become family tradition, parents need to have a solid plan AHEAD of the holiday. Parents should avoid procrastinating, and have a schedule for the holiday, and any associated break from school. The holiday schedule varies from the day-to-day routine, and thereby may require additional childcare, or time off from work. Children thrive on routine, and should be made aware in advance of the upcoming modifications, in what may be the “new norm” , or “old hat” to the children involved in the divorce, or post-divorce litigation. Being informed brings comfort, and, it is safe to say, children like to be comfortable.
A solid plan for parties, dinners, and daytime schedules is key, but being prepared for the emotional baggage and hassle associated with the plan is another component that must be contemplated. Parents should anticipate feelings and needs of their own, as well as consider the feelings and needs of, not only the children, but the other parent as well. Each member of the family unit is affected by the divorce, or post-divorce litigation, and the struggles of each family member may vary. Being cognizant of the other parent is HARD, but it is an absolute for successful co-parenting and, to that end, a successful holiday season.
Finally, parents should be present in the moments they spend with the children. Even if the parenting plan is less than ideal, not equal, not fair, and/or fails to make the children available for every important event, it is important for parents to enjoy the moments that are available. Parents who spend the holiday time consumed thinking about the holiday time they do not have with the children wind up missing out completely, and the children suffer in the process. Being present is the biggest gift parents can give themselves and the children.
The fact of the matter is that “splitting the baby” is not possible, and proceeding with a divorce, or post-divorce litigation, with the mindset that a child can be in two places at one time, is simply not practical. Parents and children involved in a divorce, or post-divorce litigation, need a clear, detailed parenting plan, including a holiday schedule, to eliminate the additional stress associated with the holiday season. Parents who have a solid plan for the holiday, prepare for the emotional impact, and most significantly, learn to be present in the moment, are the parents who provide children with a holiday season that is full of joy, calm and peace.