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Holidays with the ex can be good, if agreed upon

Question: When my ex and I originally broke up we could barely talk. Only the major holidays were mentioned in our divorce decree and so when holidays rolled around we fought terribly because both of us wanted to participate, but there was no outline for visitation. Over the years, we have gotten along better, and I’m wondering if we can legally deviate from our decree and spend a holiday together with the kids?

Answer: The parenting plan that you come up with when you first split often is revised as the children get older — and as the parents’ ability to communicate improves. And, since holidays might not be mentioned in the original parenting plan, parents that can’t get along are left to fend for themselves, which boils down to fighting about where the kids will spend their time on those particular days.

Your parenting plan is a court document, but you may deviate from it if mom and dad agree. However, if you deviate, then fight and call the police to decide where the kids go, the police will follow whatever is in the original decree unless you have added the changes to the court document.

Once parents begin to get along, they often relax and openly negotiate changes. They might even allow the kids to choose on occasion. Although great in concept, if not done properly it can be the beginning of the kids playing their parents against each other in order to get what they want — which can change like the wind each time a parent disciplines. Parents then perceive that the other parent is trying to undermine them when, in actuality, both have created the problem when they allowed their kids to run the show.

The best way to approach changes is to make sure the kids know that they openly can voice their opinion, but that the parents will discuss things and make the final decision together. If the kids know that their parents will compare note they will be less likely to try to manipulate things. It’s when they know their parents don’t talk that they learn to orchestrate changes.

As far as celebrating together, if both parents can get along in front of the kids, go for it. But it will do more harm than good if you attempt a joint evening before you are ready. You lay the ground work for spending the holidays together all year round. If spending a special day together is something you all want to do and this year is too soon, next year is a noble goal.

Jann Blackstone-Ford, Ph.D., and her husband’s ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents,” are the founders of Bonus Families .


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