Navigating the Holiday Season as a Divorced Parent


By Amy Silberstein, Divorce and Family Law Attorney, Partner

If you’re recently divorced or going through the process right now, the holiday season can bring up all sorts of challenges and emotions. Adjusting to new traditions and spending less time with your children during this season is never easy. But there are ways to make it a bit smoother for you, your former spouse—and most importantly, your children.

How is holiday time decided?

During divorce proceedings, the allocation of judgment will specify parenting time allotment in the following order:

  1. Holiday time
  2. Vacation time
  3. Normal time

These tiers mean that holiday arrangements supersede vacation schedules, which supersede your normal, year-round custody agreements. When determining these schedules, mediation and collaborative divorce afford you more control—whereas in litigation, a judge will make the final decision.

In any method, I always encourage my clients to think long-term. While you may not get time with your children on your preferred day (Christmas Eve or the first night of Hannukah, for example) this year, your holiday schedule is likely going to alternate—so you should get your preferred days next year.

As much as you want these special moments with your children, especially when your divorce is fresh and new, it may not be worth putting up a fight during divorce proceedings. It can be simpler on everyone to compromise and wait for your time to come around the second year.

What do I do this holiday season if my divorce isn’t finalized?

If your divorce isn’t yet final and you don’t have an allocation of judgment to follow, determining a holiday schedule can be even more difficult. I always advise my clients to bring up holiday time as early as possible.

If your family has a special dinner at 2pm on Christmas Day every year, don’t wait until mid-December to talk to your spouse about arrangements. It’s never too early in the year to discuss how you’ll handle these special occasions and make room for both old and new traditions in your schedule.

How do I handle holiday celebrations when my child is only with me part-time?

My biggest piece of advice for clients is don’t stop your holiday celebrations because your children are with their other parent. Stay busy rather than waiting to celebrate until your kids come home. Make a plan with other family and friends who will support you and bring holiday joy! And remember, your kids are having double the holiday celebrations, and both can be special for them.

Additionally, if your kids are young, take advantage of this time when they aren’t yet old enough to understand the difference between December 25 and December 28. If your family is flexible, you can establish a sentimental tradition on a different day of the year (or every other year) and make this the norm for your family.

Above all, alternate and compromise. If this year is tough and you don’t get your first preference, odds are that you should get it next year.

Contact Stern Perkoski Mendez

At Stern Perkoski Mendez, our family law attorneys are here to support you as you navigate complex emotions—during the holiday season, and all year round. If you need an Illinois divorce lawyer, reach out to us today. We’ll gladly meet with you at our offices in Evanston, Chicago, Lake Forest or Oak Brook.

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For a free consultation, call Stern Perkoski Mendez at (847) 868-9584 or contact us.