Christmas lights on house
Credit: Leigh Goessl

Divorce is tough financially and emotionally. In addition to the pain associated with money and emotions, if children are born of the union, two of the most important issues need to be settled during a divorce is custody and visitation.

In a divorce situation there is usually a period that consists of hard adjustments, including coping with the holidays. Before the divorce, chances are the family spent the holidays together in one place. After a divorce this is likely rarely going to happen, if ever, and the family will have to adjust to two separate households during special days. Not only is it a big transition for the adults involved, it also directly impacts the children. They may not be old enough to understand why mom and dad don't live together anymore, or if they are may be grieving or sad over the split of their parents' marriage.

Once a divorce has occurred, the parents have to now negotiate and share visitation time over the holidays. This can often be a problematic and testy situation. Even if you and your ex have a hard time dealing with one another, it's important to try and put this all aside for the sake of the kids to make sure they have an enjoyable holiday. The key to successful sharing of holidays with your ex is to approach the conflict with a proactive attitude. Simply put, make the kids' needs come first. Sharing time with the children over the holidays is difficult, but not impossible.

Children sleepingCredit: Holly / Creative Commons - Attribution


Compromise is one of the most proactive ways you can approach holiday visitation with your ex. Some marriages have a court decision which designates which parent gets the kids on which holidays (alternating holidays is often a common decree in the Court orders)

If not under court order, it's important to be willing to compromise when it comes to sharing the kids. Obviously both of you will want to spend time with your children, but this is not realistic, so other plans must be made.

Alternating holidays is probably the best compromise, or if you live in the same vicinity it may be possible to share the day. For instance, one year one parent takes the kids in the morning and the next year the afternoon; this way there is fairness for spending quality time with the kids on holidays. If distance is an issue, altering years will likely be the fairest solution.

Exercise Flexibility

Offering a level of flexibility is also important. This is not for the benefit of your ex, but ultimately for your kids and yourself too. For instance consider a situation where an ex requests a switch in holidays. If this is possible and doesn't conflict with the other spouse's holiday plans, what harm is there in granting the request? To deny the request out of anger or as a way to seek revenge is not a good reason. One never knows when they'll need a favor, so it's important to consider being flexible and showing levels of goodwill.

With this ability to compromise you can be sure your kids don't miss out on special events or visitors and, if you find yourself in a situation where you don't have the kids but really, really want them for a particular holiday, chances are your ex will be as agreeable as you were when you allowed a switch.

Carefully Choose Battles

In divorce scenarios there are often battles. It is wise to pick and carefully choose the ones you want to go to bat for. When an ex messes up the holiday schedule, you'll have every right to be angry, especially if it affects your plans. However, think long term when a conflict arises. Will fighting over it be beneficial in the long run, or could it possibly hurt you or the kids? If it's the latter, it might be wiser to let the incident slide and focus on more important current or future battles.

Get a Court Order

Many couples can amicably decide how to share the children on holidays, however, if this is not possible a court order is an option. What happens is the court will include holidays as part of the visitation schedule and both parents are ordered to follow whatever calendar is established and agreed upon. If one parent fails to follow the order, the other parent has a method of recourse.

Gavel & StrykerCredit: KeithBurtis/Wikimedia Commons/Attribution

Even if the divorce is somewhat friendly, a court order certainly can't hurt and can serve as a safety net. If  you and the ex are on friendly terms and can work together with alternating and/or sharing the kids on holidays, you can be flexible with the court order; the court will not intervene unless one member brings it to their attention as a problem.

Negotiating with the ex over holidays can be either an easy or a painful process. However, if you are willing to make concessions and have open communication with your ex, this makes the holidays much easier to bear. In the end the kids won't be exposed to any kind of conflict and the focus can be on them having a nice time.