The holidays are a busy time—not just for those in retail and catering, but for attorneys. Specifically, family law attorneys. You might not have guessed this is the busy season for this profession, but it’s true. This is an emotional time of year for divorced parents when parenting plans often become hotly disputed. Parents who previously agreed to a holiday schedule suddenly rethink it as the holidays become a reality. The thought of spending year-end holidays alone, once something that was just part of a big visitation plan, becomes an unbearable reality. High-conflict parents go into hyperdrive, finding every possible way to sabotage each other’s holiday plans with the kids. And even parents who generally get along find themselves disagreeing about the tiny details, such as actual times for drop-offs, how many phone calls will be allowed and at what time, how to interpret the wording in their court order, and where the child may keep her new gifts.
Because of this, the phones ring off the hooks in family law offices, with clients begging their attorneys to intervene and straighten things out. People who call at 4 pm on December 23 are usually distressed to learn that there is no time to do anything in court and that the other parent’s attorney has already left for vacation. The system is overloaded.
Don’t fall into the holiday dispute trap. If you and your ex are having trouble working out your holiday plans, a little self-mediation can help you solve the problem. Use these 5 self-mediation tips to get through the holidays with your ex:
1. Use your roadmap! Pull out your written parenting plan. What does it say? This is your roadmap to the holidays. You need to follow what it says, unless you both agree otherwise. One of you wanting a change is not enough to actually make one. It’s by the book or by mutual agreement to alter it, and nothing else. If you have no written plan, you need to work out an agreement now. If you don’t feel as though you’re capable of having a fair discussion on your own – call a Mediator to help. It’s usually much faster (and cheaper), and you’ll be able to craft an agreement quickly that you both can live with.
2. Be calm, and be clear! If you want to make a change but your ex won’t agree, completely lay out what you are proposing and why. List dates and times so it is clear what you want. Explain why you want to make the change. To be very persuasive, total up the amount of hours you each will have and compare it to the pre-existing written parenting plan to show your ex that everyone will have the same amount of time (or that your ex will actually get added time). Be business-like, calm, and collected. You may feel very emotional about what you want, but displaying your emotions is not going to help resolve things. If you have no written parenting plan, lay out what kind of schedule you are proposing for holidays (don’t try to negotiate beyond this – stick to the immediate problem).
3. Ask your ex for input! This is a negotiation. You both need the opportunity to talk. Be prepared to do a little give and take. Is there something you might be willing to give up in order to get the holiday schedule you want? Are you willing to alter holiday plans for other major holidays in the coming year? Maybe you are willing to trade one of the upcoming regularly scheduled weekends for the holiday plan you want. You both need to walk away feeling the compromises you’ve made are fair.
4. Write it down! Write down whatever you’ve agreed to and put both your signatures on it. It’s not enforceable in court, but it does clear up any possible confusion and makes it very clear what your plan is.
5. Don’t forget – it’s really all about the kids! Don’t let your disagreements affect your child’s holiday. Do not burden your child with your sadness that you will be alone on an important holiday. Don’t expect your child to be able to focus on anything other than what is happening at the home he is at on a holidays. Children are understandably self-centered and when there’s major excitement in front of them they aren’t going to be interested in talking to a parent who is not present.