I’ve always thought of Thanksgiving as the start of the holiday season. First there is Thanksgiving, then there is Black Friday (hey, that’s a celebration, too!), then Christmas, then New Year’s Eve, and finally New Years Day. But, because celebrating the season is usually synonymous with having family time, the holidays can be particularly painful when you are going through a divorce, and for years afterwards.
For many divorced and divorcing moms, one of the hardest parts about the holidays is deciding what happens with the kids on those days. (The hardest part is actually celebrating the holidays when you don’t have your kids with you, but that’s a subject for a whole other article.)
Obviously, sitting down to a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving with your entire family at the table, including your ex, is usually neither a real possibility nor a good choice – although some amazing divorced couples do still celebrate holidays together for the sake of the kids. If you don’t happen to be one of those exceedingly rare divorced couples who can still spend Thanksgiving together even after they are divorced, the question remains: what happens to the kids?
The Legal Answer
For once, the legal answer to this question is easy: on Thanksgiving, the kids go wherever the court order (or your divorce judgment) says that they go. Of course, before you get a court order, someone has to decide what it will say. So, either you and your ex have to work out a deal, or the judge will decide what happens for you.
But, here is an inside secret: judges hate deciding who gets the kids for the holidays! Your judge doesn’t know you! She doesn’t know your kids. She has no idea what your holiday traditions have been in the past. All she knows is that your kids have to go somewhere. And, if you and your spouse can’t make that decision, she will. But don’t expect the judge to be impressed with either you or your spouse if you force her to make a decision which, with all due respect, she is not nearly as qualified to make as you and your spouse (a/k/a your children’s parents).
What Are Your Choices?
There are lots of different ways you can divide up the holidays with your kids. For Thanksgiving, you basically have four options:
1. One parent always gets Thanksgiving. This is usually an only an option for people who don’t care about Thanksgiving (like foreign nationals) or people who always have to work on Thanksgiving.
2. Each parent gets all of Thanksgiving day in alternating years.
3. The parents split Thanksgiving day, with one parent getting the kids from, say 8am to 3pm and the other getting them from 3pm to 10pm. This option only works if you and your spouse/ex live fairly close together, you each respect each other enough to actually be on time with the kids, and no one minds if the kids eat Thanksgiving dinner twice.
4. One parent gets, not only Thanksgiving day, but the entire weekend one year, and the other parent gets the whole weekend the next year. This is usually the best option for people who travel to be with family on Thanksgiving.
So, How do you Decide?
The best way to decide where the kids should go on Thanksgiving is to put yourself in their shoes and try to do what is really in their best interest. What does that mean? It means not insisting that Thanksgiving be treated as a one-day holiday when your entire family has always gone to your in-laws’ house in a different state for the whole Thanksgiving weekend. You know that unless you treat the whole weekend as a holiday the kids are never going to get to go their grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving again. Don’t do that to them!
By the same token, just because you may have always gone with the kids to your parents’ house for Thanksgiving in the past, that does not mean that it is in their best interest to always spend that weekend with you. Your ex is their parent, too. They need to spend holidays with both of you.
So, what if your ex is lousy at holidays and you know the kids will have a much better time if they are with you? I hate to say it, but the best thing you can do for your kids is to encourage them to go and to have a good time. Help them to make the best of the holiday even if their father celebrates it in a very different way from you. (You can also choose to celebrate a second “Thanksgiving” on a day when your kids are with you.)
What if You Can’t Decide?
If you and your spouse, for whatever reason, can’t agree on who gets the kids for Thanksgiving, then you have three choices: don’t do anything and let the chips fall where they may on Thanksgiving Day; get a mediator to help you and your spouse come to terms about the holiday; or ask the judge to decide the issue for you. Of these three choices, the first is by far the worst.
If you don’t have a court order that says anything about where the kids go for Thanksgiving, and you and your ex don’t agree, you need to get a court order! Do NOT avoid dealing with the issue. You may think you have the upper hand. You may think you have a great plan for how you will whisk the kids away for the day. But you may also end up with a stress-filled day when your spouse shows up in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, pounding on the door and demanding to see the kids. Or, worse, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a court motion in which your spouse paints you as being unfair and as alienating him from the kids.
If you do have to go to court to fight over Thanksgiving, there is one thing you absolutely must do: File early! You can’t wait until the week before Thanksgiving and file an emergency motion asking the judge to decide where the kids should go on the holiday. Thanksgiving is not an emergency.
A Time for Giving Thanks
No matter what, It is hard to spend Thanksgiving, or any other holiday, without your kids. But, whether you are with them all day, part of the day, or not at all, remember: at least you have kids. Hopefully, they are healthy. Hopefully they are reasonably happy. It’s Thanksgiving. Take time to give thanks.
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