High-Conflict Holiday Time and Christmas

There are so many disputes around this time of the year, every year, from parents trying to navigate parenting after separation and shared holidays. The reality is that the children can’t be in two places at the same time. Someone is going to be stuck spending at least part of Christmas this year without access to their children.

After separation, Christmas is often shared between both parents by either dividing the stat holidays (Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day) or by splitting the two-week winter break in half. A parenting plan can be put into a formal agreement or set out in a court order. In high-conflict situations, it’s incredibly important to have a parenting plan in a court order or formal agreement that does not leave any room for interpretation. One of the most common mistakes that leads to conflict during the Christmas season is when the parenting plan references to a specific day of the week (ie, “Friday before Christmas”) to a specified date (ie, “New Years Day”). This wording will create chaos during the Christmas season if the school break starts midweek and the children are back in class days after the first day in the new year. If the intention is to split the children’s time equally it should be based on the school calendar.

What’s the big deal?

This year, the school winter break starts on December 22, 2023, which just so happens to be the Friday before Christmas. That’s great news for those parents out there that start their holiday parenting time on the “Friday before Christmas” this year. There is no room for conflict on when their Christmas holiday time with start.

However, those that end their holiday parenting time on “New Years Day” might be shocked to find that school returns on January 8, 2024. The halfway mark for shared holiday time using the Friday before Christmas and New Years Day, lands on December 27, 2023. Many parents realize that this probably doesn’t make much sense since the children are still on their school break for thirteen more days.

When the parenting plan is drafted in a way that it doesn’t fit with when the children are actually on holidays, it can leave it to the parents to use their discretion to change it themselves in a way that makes sense.

If either parent refuses to do so, one parent could end up with three weekends in a row in the month of December and the bigger portion of the school break. One parent could be stuck only seeing their children for a handful of days during the month of December despite the intension of sharing the holiday equally. This doesn’t leave much time to celebrate with one side of the family. Situations like these demonstrate the importance of having a properly drafted parenting plan by an experienced professional.

These tips can reduce any lingering festive challenges:

Plan in advance to jam-pack the allotted time.

Parents must plan to cram all of their activities and festive plans into the allotted time. This means that the grandparents and any other relatives or friends must plan to visit during the allotted time if they want to see the children. It takes a plan to make every minute count when time is restricted or shared during the holidays.

“You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

Parents should refrain from asking for more parenting time. A high conflict co-parent will not have a sudden change of heart during the holiday season. Parents should not ask their co-parent for anything that their co-parent would agree to any other time of the year. Parents must follow the agreement down to the very last minute and keep their holiday celebrations within their scheduled time.

Expect any flaws to shine bright for the holidays.

Christmas is not an incentive for a Deadbeat to start tackling those support arrears or to abruptly become a super parent. It’s not an incentive for a Cheapskate to spend a bunch of money. Expect a Primary Parent to have rules that they want enforced (like an early bedtime) even on Christmas. Parents should prepare for the other parent’s worst behaviour and keep any expectations from the other parent extremely low.

Parents can’t change their co-parent. High conflict situations become easier to manage with the assistance of a professional. With the guidance of an expert, it’s possible to learn how to adapt and improve the dynamics involved in the parenting situation at hand without lawyers or the court.

Edmonton Family Network has connections to legal professionals and community support services. Contact us to learn more.

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