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Communication, courtesy and putting your kids first goes a long way

By Myra Chack Fleischer, Fleischer & Associates

November 28, 2012 (San Diego)--The holidays aren’t always warm and fuzzy like a Hallmark card for divorced and separated parents. Phones start ringing off the hook in family law offices all over the country including Fleischer & Associates as families start squabbling over custody and visitation schedules, winter vacations and even gift-giving. Serious fears about non-custodial parent abductions and unsupervised visits can arise.

Believe it or not, most attorneys would rather enjoy the holidays with our own families than rush into court to file emergency legal documents for stressed out clients during the season. Due to the recent court cutbacks, emergency filings are an even greater strain on everyone. This is the time to think ahead, anticipate and solve problems so you can enjoy your holiday season with minimum stress for you and your children.

If at all possible, communicate, and communicate some more with your former spouse. Do so through attorneys if you must. Here’s the payoff: you’ll not only avoid stress but also any added financial expense from legal bills.

My tips for divorced parents: 

Get out your most recent court order. Is there a holiday schedule included in it? It may be a while since you looked it over. Get familiar with specific dates and times your children are with you, and when they are supposed to be with the other parent.

Be proactive and send a friendly confirmation of the holiday schedule to the other parent so that expectations are clear. See if you can solve any disagreements now. 

Attorneys are usually happy to review your holiday schedules for minimum or no cost. Whatever the cost, it will save time, money, and stress in the long run.

Draw up a holiday schedule for your kids and post it. Make sure everyone is familiar with it so transitions are smooth. The only surprises should come from Santa.

Be flexible. If out of town relatives are making a special visit, don’t punish your children by prohibiting visitation even if it’s your regular time. It might be the only time of the year seeing them is possible. Encouraging ongoing relationships with all of your children’s family members is always in their best interest.

If your kids have to travel to visit a parent who lives far away, both parents should have a copy of the specific holiday schedule, contact numbers and addresses so the non-visiting parent can stay in touch during the visitation period. Get everything in writing so there are no misunderstandings.

If you fear for a child’s safety or have suspicions about child abduction, you may want to discuss your concerns with a family law attorney and decide whether you need to ask a court for a modification of visitation.

As a general rule, you cannot take minor children out of your state without the other parent’s express written consent. The other parent should be informed right away if you plan to leave town. Don’t forget and then expect him or her to go along the day before the trip.

Stay positive and assure your kids they will enjoy happy holidays with both of you. Don’t make them take sides and don’t make them feel guilty for enjoying time with the other parent’s side of the family.

If you feel sadness about family activities that remind you of a time your family was together, forget about struggling to keep everything the same. Accept change as positive and introduce some new, fun activities into your holiday.

If your divorce is fresh, sitting down with your ex and his or her family at the dinner table might be too much right now. Once the wounds start to heal, see if you can be the bigger person. While your relationship with your in-laws has changed, your child’s relationships with their family members have not. Be polite for a few hours to allow your children to enjoy a family meal or event.

A minimum effort on your part could save you and your family from an emotional or financial disaster. This is supposed to be a special time of the year for everyone, most of all your children.

Myra Chack Fleischer founded Fleischer & Associates in 2001 and serves as Lead Counsel with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Follow Fleischer & Associates on Facebook and on Twitter @LawyerMyra

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