Divorce is always difficult for families, and it seems like the stress they experience is increased during the holidays. One side or the other – or both – might become more emotional because life is changing. It is not unusual for a divorcing parent to feel depressed during the holidays.
It can be especially difficult if children are involved because parents may be experiencing a holiday without their children for the first time.
During the holiday season, there are many more parties, much more drinking [Tis the Season… for DUI Arrests], and people’s inhibitions seem to be generally impaired. In my experience, people going through divorce say and do things that would be out of the ordinary during the rest of the year.
Remember What’s Really Important
Generally speaking, we see an increase in domestic violence during the holidays, thanks to the more acute emotional intensity that people experience and/or people’s judgment is impaired by drinking.
To be clear, the term “Domestic Violence” does not always mean violence. In some cases it does, but domestic violence actually encompasses more than physical aggression.
If one party gets angry and throws a wedding picture on the ground, smashing the frame, that can be considered domestic violence. If the other person raises his or her voice and shouts, that can also be considered domestic violence.
During the nastiest divorce cases, I have seen one spouse accuse the other of domestic violence or drinking and driving as a way to get the “upper hand” in the divorce case.
For instance, say the father knocks on the door to drop off the kids after a holiday party. When the mother answers, she thinks she detects a whiff of alcohol on the father, so as soon as he leaves, she calls the police and reports a drunk driver. The father gets pulled over. Since it doesn’t take much to be considered impaired and/or since people sometimes get arrested based on the odor of alcohol, a DUI can be charged. This can put the offending party at a disadvantage in the divorce, there can be significant costs, etc.
Whether he was above the legal limit or not, now the relationship has become more strained and the children’s relationship with one parent may become difficult.
Look Over Your Parenting Plan
A common mistake divorcing parents make is neglecting to flesh out a comprehensive parenting plan. Having an incomplete or vague parenting agreement gets many families in trouble during the holiday season.
For example, travel is one issue that is commonly overlooked. Say the parents agree, “Mom will have the kids on Christmas Eve, Dad will have them on Christmas day.”
That works out fine for the first couple of years, but now Mom has a new relationship. The significant other says, ”I have a tradition of exchanging gifts on Christmas morning. Mom contacts Dad and says “Can I bring the children over at noon”, and he says no. The parties should review their Agreement to be familiar with the relevant terms. If your Agreement doesn’t have this much detail, you may want to address the issue with your PCDM, mediator, arbitrator or even the Court before the actual holiday. You don’t want to have threats and police contact on Christmas Day.
Every year our office receives emergency calls from parents who are dealing with last-minute issues like this. Don’t put yourself in a position where you need to place that call.
It is not a bad idea to review a parenting agreement before the fight begins. If you would like assistance, our office is here to help. Call us today at (720) 999-9506 to set up a free consultation.