The holiday season is upon us and for many that also means it’s time for meaningful family traditions and sentimental decorations. While this time of year is often one of the merriest, it can also be one of the hardest for families who are impacted by separation or divorce. I’m a certified mediator and family law attorney who has a unique personal perspective when it comes to divorce during the holidays.
When I experienced my own divorce 13 years ago with two young children, my former husband and I found ways to share our family’s holiday traditions. This allowed us both individual opportunities to celebrate the holidays with our children in ways that were familiar to them and special to us. When I later remarried, my husband and his three sons had their own set of traditions too. So, we blended ours together to create a mix of old and new traditions that all of our children love and look forward to every year.
At ROAD to RESOLUTION, we focus our services on Divorce Mediation and Collaborative Family Law. Through these out-of-court alternative dispute resolution processes, I work with divorcing spouses to untangle the business of their marriage and fairly separate assets and debts. With these methods of divorce, we also create parenting plans that address where children live, when they spend time with each parent, and how they spend each holiday. I’ve also worked with many families over the years as they determine other aspects of the holiday season too like which parent will take the kids to the annual tree lighting ceremony or which spouse gets the prized ornament.
I want to offer some advice for divorcing spouses and co-parents who may experience the division of family traditions, sentimental seasonal items, and time with their children over the next two months. I know first-hand that it can be hard, but with a good plan in place, there are still ways to enjoy your holiday season.
Annual holiday traditions can be difficult to navigate because they often mean so much to both parents. If this is your first holiday as a co-parent, make a list of the traditions that you’ve enjoyed in past years and schedule a time to discuss them with your co-parent in a respectful manner. Determine what you can continue enjoying together – maybe meeting up to take your children ice skating – or what activities you’d like to do on your own.
Some of these traditions can be easy to duplicate. For instance, when my children were younger, I would let each of them pick a dessert that we would make together for Thanksgiving. Since it was easy to continue on my own, we kept doing this even after their father and I divorced. For traditions that can’t be as easily duplicated, perhaps it can be alternated each year depending on who has the kids for that holiday. While traditions are deeply personal and strongly rooted, it’s important to talk about them with your co-parent. I encourage you to remember that holidays are about creating happy memories with your children. Don’t let an argument with your parenting partner over a holiday tradition turn a once positive memory into a negative one for your kids.
This can be a tricky part of division as it’s sometimes an afterthought until divorcing spouses start packing their belongings or going through attics. When it comes to items like a special menorah or a cherished ornament, they’re usually not even considered until the holiday arrives. If possible, separated or divorcing spouses should go through the decorations the first holiday that they aren’t together. At that point, decide who keeps what or figure out how you can split items or collections.
Perhaps there are some pieces that hold a special memory for one spouse, so it’s appropriate that they keep them. This was the case for my former husband when we divorced. We had a Madame Alexander angel tree topper that he and our daughter would place on the tree together every year. This was such a special tradition for them, so we agreed that he should have the tree topper. It makes me smile knowing it’s still a tradition that he and our now 23-year-old daughter still enjoy.
Family Heirlooms and Photographs
When it comes to items that have been passed down through generations, it’s fairly easy to determine who should keep them. If it’s yours, logically it should stay with you – and if it’s your former spouse’s, logically it should stay with them. Most of the time, this doesn’t require discussion and that was the case during my divorce. My former husband had a grandfather clock from his great grandfather that dated back to the 1800s. While I loved having it in our home and appreciated its history, it was clearly his family heirloom and something that should stay with him.
However, if it’s an heirloom that you created or purchased as a family, perhaps you can give it to one of your children or have it alternate between homes for the holidays. If there are multiple heirlooms, consider splitting them up so you each have a fair number.
For sentimental items that can be replicated or copied – like photographs and home videos – the division is much easier. I’ve worked with many divorcing couples who each wanted photo albums from their children’s youth. In these cases, they agreed to make copies of the photos to digitize their memories. From there, they were able to reprint the photos as necessary and then split up the original photographs. This can be done at home with a scanner, through a local photo or video company, or with a reputable digital service online. While pricing can vary, it’s important to read reviews from several different sources prior to sending off your original photographs.
The holiday season as a divorced parent is already challenging and the division of family traditions and sentimental items can make it even harder. If you and your former spouse or parenting partner are having difficulty coming to a resolution, it may be time to bring in a professional. As a Collaborative Family Law attorney, certified mediator, and co-parenting coach, I can serve as a resource for all your co-parenting needs. Through my Charlotte-based law firm, ROAD to RESOLUTION, I can work with you and your parenting partner to update a parenting agreement or help mediate discussions surrounding your holiday and family traditions.
Note: This feature is intended to be informational only and shall not be construed as legal advice.