The holiday season can be a stressful time for any family. Here are our top tips for minimizing holiday stress—especially for families thinking about separating or who are recently separated or recently divorced.

1. Avoid starting litigation during the holidays.

There is never a good time to start family litigation. But initiating a divorce or custody case during the holiday season only magnifies the stress of the holidays and the stress of the litigation. Unless it is unavoidable for safety reasons, if at all possible, wait to initiate your case until the New Year.

2. Take a positive co-parenting approach to scheduling.

If your family is already separated or divorced, the holidays are prime time for disputes over the children’s schedules. Inevitably, one or both parents will have last minute scheduling changes related to family holiday activities. The children will watch and absorb everything about how the parents handle these scheduling adjustments. Remember that the holidays should be fun for the children, so make every effort to work with your co-parent to make the schedule work in a way that maximizes the children’s time with every part of the family.

3. Start planning early.

If you do not yet have a holiday schedule in a parenting plan or court order, start planning for the holidays early. Be proactive and reach out to your co-parent to coordinate your respective schedules and plans. Do everything in your power to resolve the children’s holiday schedule without having to involve your local family court.

4. Know your court’s “holiday court” schedule.

Many family courts have a designated holiday court or holiday judge in November and December to resolve holiday scheduling disputes. In the unfortunate event you are not able to resolve the holiday schedule with your co-parent, be sure to learn your court’s holiday court procedures and leave yourself and your attorney plenty of time to make a request to the holiday court. If there is no designated holiday procedure in your court, be sure to make any holiday-related requests through the court’s usual expedited hearing procedures in enough time to have a ruling before the holidays. Holiday courts should be used as a last resort, however, because the result could be a schedule that is not convenient for anyone.

5. Be kind.

Don’t forget that the holidays are a time for kindness, gratitude, and fun. As difficult as it may be to celebrate holidays as a separated family, particularly for the first time, try not to lose sight of the purpose and meaning of the holidays. Extend kindness to your co-parent and extended family. Take time to be mindful, express gratitude, and have fun.


Stephen J. Cullen and Kelly A. Powers have established one of the leading international family law practices in the United States. As co-leaders of Miles & Stockbridge’s family law and private clients practice in D.C., they work on complex international divorces, custody, and financial relief in the United States and around the world. They also are well-known for their work in addressing child abduction issues. To learn more, visit the practice’s blog.


Disclaimer: This is for general information and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice for any particular matter. It is not intended to and does not create any attorney-client relationship. The opinions expressed and any legal positions asserted in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Miles & Stockbridge, its other lawyers, or Best Lawyers.