Thanksgiving and Co-parenting in a Divorce | L&ML Lawyers

Let’s Talk About Thanksgiving

November 22, 2019
BY: Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O'Cathain & O'Cathain

Thanksgiving and Co-parenting in a Divorce

Let’s Talk About Thanksgiving…

…when you are contemplating divorce, separated, or in the process of getting a divorce in New Jersey.

The holidays are stressful for everyone, regardless if you are the one entertaining or you are the one is charged with traveling to see far distant relatives that you have nothing in common with.

Now if you are already stressed about the approaching holiday, that anxiety is probably exacerbated if you are considering filing for a divorce or in the process of the divorce. For those people who are dreading the holiday since being divorced, look to our associate Amanda Yu’s article.

I know from experience that many people contemplate divorce just because of the holidays: “This one does too much,” “That one doesn’t do enough,” “My in-laws drive me nuts,” “I never have anything to say to those children.”

If you are contemplating divorce, separated, or in the process of a divorce, but decide that you will be spending the holiday with your soon-to-be ex, then here are a few tips on how to handle getting through the “pressure cooker” that is the Thanksgiving  holiday:

  1. Express Yourself (Privately)

If you find yourself about to sit down and break bread with someone you know that you are divorcing, then you probably have a lot on your mind. You probably have plenty to say about their behavior, their actions or their lack thereof. If you are in the middle of a divorce litigation, then you probably have even more to say.

As Thanksgiving is already stressful and people tend to get annoyed more easily, I think it is best to preemptively handle your personal “breaking point.” I always encourage my clients to be truthful and honest about how they are feeling, but I also think it is important to have those feelings and thoughts expressed in a healthy manner and not in the middle of a holiday.

Instead of just advising you to keep calm, smile and act like everything is normal, I would suggest taking some time to yourself to actually sit down and write your thoughts about the other person.

You can write as much as you want. Be truthful. Be honest. Express how you truly feel. No one ever has to see what you write. You do not even need to keep what you write, but trust me, writing it down will make you feel better.

Even if this exercise seems juvenile, I encourage clients to do this. Let out all of the emotions you have. This makes a sudden outburst or an explosive fight less likely. If you take the time to write out how you feel about the other person, then you will feel a sense of release.

This means that when the other person does not help out during Thanksgiving or acts inappropriately, you will be less likely to lose your cool and say something you regret. This is specifically more important to those who are contemplating divorce or are currently separated from their significant other. The worst thing you could possibly do is get upset about something minor and insignificant, which causes you to drop the bombshell about divorce.

  1. Don’t Spoil the Meal (Leave the Drama Outside)

In conjunction with keeping your thoughts and feelings to yourself during the holiday, you have to be mindful of who in your family knows what about your divorce. I have had clients in the past who have already filed for divorce, but have not yet told their children. Those clients (or their soon-to-be ex’s) have contemplated announcing the divorce at Thanksgiving.

They think “Why not? Everyone will be together? It’s a no brainer.” I strongly advise against this. While it is always wise to be transparent, it is even more important to remain tactful, cordial and appropriate during a holiday.

Your Soon-To-Be Ex: For those contemplating divorce, you may think that you could get through the holiday without incident. However, as I previously discussed, holidays are stressful. Ordinarily happy couples throw the word “divorce” around just because holidays can be stressful.

This is why I believe it is important to express your feelings about possibly getting a divorce prior to Thanksgiving. (See Tip 1 above). In reality, if you think you are strong and can keep your mouth shut, my hat’s off to you. However, if you have a tendency to get stressed about the holiday, it is more likely that you will say something without thinking just because you are upset.

This could cause so many issues. It is not appropriate conversation during Thanksgiving. It also make not be taken seriously if you are in the middle of a tantrum about the side dishes not being properly prepared. This is why I would hold off until after the holiday to discuss the possibility of divorcing with your soon-to-be ex.

Children: If you have children, there is a possibility they already know that there are issues at home. They could possibly know that their parents are in the process of a divorce. However, for the parents who have not yet told their children about the divorce, I strongly urge to hold off until after the holiday. (No, I do not mean later that evening— I mean the week after).

Parents, as always, need to use their best judgment. A parent needs to consider their children’s ages, their maturity and their emotional ties to each parent before broaching the subject of divorce. Each parent also has to be mindful of the other parent’s thoughts, feelings and opinions.

As always, you need to effectively communicate with the other parent in order to come to a joint decision on when the children should be told about the divorce. Thanksgiving is not a good day to decide to tell the children about the divorce.

Some people think it is a marvelous idea to have a fun-filled Thanksgiving and then as soon as the pumpkin pie is served announce that the parents are getting a divorce. This will be incredibly upsetting to your children, especially if you managed to have an enjoyable holiday.

Your children will remember the day that you told them you are getting a divorce for the rest of their lives. Be considerate. Do not tell them on a holiday. Do not ruin all future Thanksgivings for your children by having it be remembered as the day their parents told them about the divorce.

Non-immediate family members: When it comes to breaking the news of a divorce to your soon-to-be ex or your children, it is a private conversation that needs to be handled with care and understanding. Therefore, if you attend or a host a large gathering, I urge the divorce conversation (regardless of what stage you are in) to be kept out of the conversation.

There is no need to “air your dirty laundry,” during Thanksgiving. Even adults could have a permanent sour taste in their mouth when it comes to Thanksgiving, if you decide to make your impending divorce topic of conversation during a family holiday.

  1. Savor the Holiday

In other contexts, I would usually recommend that parents try to get their children to become accustomed to the “new” living situation or the “new” family arrangement, but I would urge parents to forego pushing their “new” agenda on their child on a holiday, especially Thanksgiving. There is nothing worse than a child being scarred for life because their parents could not “put on a happy face,” for one last holiday meal.

As previously explained, I think it is best to get ahead of any type of thoughts and feelings you have by writing them down. Regardless, if you heed my advice on that topic I urge to actually try to enjoy the holiday with your soon-to-be ex.

When it comes down to it, you did have good times and good memories with your soon-to-be ex and this will most likely be the last Thanksgiving you will be spending with them. Try to enjoy your holiday by remembering what that person did to make you happy in the past. Reminisce about memories (if you can stomach it).

Although this is important to do in the presence of children as it may be the last time you are altogether as a family, this is also important for you. It is wise to have one memory without fighting and without animosity. Try to enjoy yourself and the presence of the other person. Try to make one last enjoyable holiday memory together.

Not only will this help you both move on in a happy and healthy manner, it may actually help make the impending divorce a little bit easier to handle and a little more amicable.

If you have the ability to get through one last holiday meal together without a huge incident occurring, then you should be mature enough to handle a divorce that does not resort to name calling and mudslinging.

In the Middle of Divorce

It should go without saying that if there is a parenting time agreement in place, or if there is a Court order in place, which directs you on how to handle Thanksgiving (pick-up/drop-off, transportation responsibility, who has the entire weekend following Thanksgiving with the child) then you need to follow the order. That’s the bottom line.

It doesn’t matter if the agreement “just” occurred and you “thought” it meant it would not apply to this year. If it does not specifically state “to commence in 2020,” and it is an Order, then it  needs to be followed. Consent Orders or Orders entered by the Court must be followed.

With Thanksgiving, and with all holidays, there will be some exceptions and there will be some unique situations, but the ONLY time you do not have to follow a parenting time Consent Order is if you and the other parent specifically agree that the Order will not be followed.

Some people take it upon themselves to book trips or schedule Thanksgiving with their family even though it will affect the other parent’s parenting time. I cannot stress enough that you have to abide by the terms of agreements have already been executed.

You cannot simply act upon what you want for your ideal holiday without thinking about the other parent. In my experience, I have been involved more litigation regarding Thanksgiving than I have with any other holiday. People will unilaterally decide how the child spends the weekend after Thanksgiving without thinking of the repercussions.

I cannot stress enough that people ending up spend the month before Thanksgiving fighting over a half hour or fighting over arrangements that were made without their consent.  People will spend their entire holiday fighting all because they refused to read an agreement that they voluntarily signed and agreed upon.

Please do not be that person. Do what you can to make the holiday enjoyable, not only for you, but your children, your family and your ex. Both you and your soon-to-be ex deserve to be happy, but just not at the other’s expense.

Therefore, to avoid unnecessary litigation, as with all effective co-parenting in a divorce, I urge you to communicate with your ex. It is a lot easier to ask permission than to ask for forgiveness.

This is the holiday to be Thankful. You should try as much as possible to have a cordial co-parenting relationship with your ex. Parents that can have an effective co-parenting in a divorce and effectively communicate are certainly something children of all ages would be thankful for.

At Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O’Cathain & O’Cathain, LLC., our New Jersey divorce lawyers can help you resolve your case efficiently.