Making a List, Checking It Twice

Being a separated parent with kids can add stress to the holidays. These five tips can help you navigate the season, maintain your sanity—and ensure that the focus remains on the children’s happiness.

Couple drinking glasses of wine

Lindsay Heller

December 19, 2022 12:00 AM

It seems as though the holidays come upon us ever faster as the years pass. I went shopping just before Halloween, hoping to find some Halloween themed paper goods for an event, and much to my surprise, all Halloween merchandise had been cleared out and Christmas decor occupied every aisle. It felt as if Thanksgiving had been passed over, with everyone now focused on the gift-giving holidays.

While I was disappointed in my own (clearly delayed) holiday decor search, the reality is that society starts planning for the holiday's months in advance—and if you don’t, you should. Especially if you are separated or divorced and have children.

We can’t take lightly the ways in which a marital split can change holiday dynamics."

Kids appreciate knowing their plans and need consistency in their schedules. Children whose parents are separated or navigating an ongoing divorce deserve to have advance notice just like their friends whose parents are together and who therefore likely know where and how they’ll celebrate the holidays.

While this time of year often stirs up fond memories and warm feelings, it can also be difficult for anyone experiencing hardship, whether financial, familial, recent loss of a loved one or, of course, divorce. We can’t take lightly the ways in which a marital split can change holiday dynamics. The goal of the tip list below is not to induce sadness but to increase the chances for a successful season for parents and kids alike, so family can be the focus—whatever that means for each individual—and not acrimony.

Whether this is your first separated holiday season or the latest of many, take a look at these pointers and consider incorporating them into your plans. They might seem logical, sure, but sometimes logic escapes us—especially during a busy, emotionally fraught time of year.

1. Be sure the holidays are about the kids! As adults, we can rationalize that the holidays come and go. Some are great, some less so, and in any case they’ll be back next year. Kids often don’t understand this, so try to switch your focus as best you can so the holidays remain a happy time for them.

2. Plan time-sharing arrangements in advance. Why not follow the approach I encountered above and plan before Halloween? There’s no better time to schedule Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Keep in mind that courts do not love an emergent application about scheduling on the eve of the holiday. Such an application lacks urgency given that the major holidays are always on or around the same date. Planning will also give your children the peace of mind of knowing where they’ll be spending them.

3. If possible, discuss gifts with your former (or separate) spouse. All parents have their own ideas about what is or isn’t appropriate in terms of volume and cost. Try to avoid duplicate gifts and stay in the same price range if you can. When kids get a duplicate from friends at a birthday party, that’s understandable; at Christmas it might show the kids that Mom and Dad aren’t on the same page. Some parents choose to jointly gift, but this works only if both agree. It can’t be forced and will not be required.

4. Save your comments about how happy you are not to have to see a member of your separated spouse’s family. Do so when you’re within earshot of your kids, anyway; feel free to tell your friends if you need to vent. Your children are building memories with both sides of their family, and this should be encouraged from everyone on each side. In the same vein, if you hear an extended family member speak ill of your child’s other parent, step in and change the tune. Also, without interrogating, show interest in what your kids are doing with their other parent.

5. Have fun! Try your best not to let a separation, divorce, new stepparent or any combination thereof get in the way of enjoying whatever is your favorite part of the holidays. Children are generally the priority at all times of year, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a little self-care as well. There is light at the end of the tunnel: If this is your first post-divorce holiday, you’ll never have to contend with that again. Enjoy, reset and get ready for the new year.

Not all these tips will apply to every parent, and not everyone will have a co-parent who cooperates with your efforts to adhere to them. Remember, though: You can control only your behavior and your side of the aisle. Incorporate these suggestions to the best of your ability, particularly when you don’t need the other parent’s cooperation.

Wishing everyone happy holidays no matter your circumstance, and increasingly happy ones as the years go on!

Lindsay Heller is a partner in the Family Law Department of Fox Rothschild LLP. Based in the firm’s Morristown, NJ office, she can be reached at

Headline Image: iStock/Dusan Stankovic

Related Articles

Where There’s No Will . . .

by Anthony J. Enea

. . . there’s no way for you to ensure your assets get distributed the way you would prefer. A guide to the consequences of exiting the stage without a last will and testament in New York.

Money symbol fading to dust

Divorce in a Downturn

by Jennifer Brandt

Couples who choose to end their marriage during a recession must confront a host of difficult economic questions in addition to all the financial and emotional demands inherent in any divorce.

Piggy bank broken into different sections

Ghosts of Christmas Past

by Steven M. Visioli

’Tis the season . . . for a vacation without the kids. A recommendation against sharing co-parenting holidays with your ex.

Family walking on the beach at sunset

Confronting the Inevitable

by Theresa Jo Gaffney

It’s never easy to contemplate one’s mortality. Yet end-of-life planning is essential at any age, as I learned all too well when my husband contracted COVID-19 several months into the pandemic. The peace of mind such forethought brings is essential should the worst come to pass.

Unseen figures holding hands

Split Decisions

by Jonathan Merel

Divorce is inevitably fraught with a torrent of emotions on both sides. Don’t let this occlude your ability to plan rationally and dispassionately to ensure as smooth a process as possible. Here are five common pitfalls to avoid.

Two people standing on either side of a heart made out of curving roads

Family Owned and Operated

by David W. Holaday and John M. Goralka

In the era of sweeping tax reform, family businesses, particularly agricultural business, face many environmental and governmental risks. Outlined below are strategies to ensure family business survival in the face of these threats.

Man on tractor in open field

Brace for Impact

by Ray Young, Jr. and Scott Hetrick

The 2021 independent contractor rule might have major impacts on employers and upend compliance issues, especially as the DOL’s definition of an independent contractor is about to change.

Silhouetted figure holding the hands of a clock

Withstand the Ban

by Jeffrey A. Calabrese and Kirby Black

With the recent Federal Trade Commission’s announcement proposing a complete ban on noncompete agreements, we offer advice to companies moving forward.

Figure out of frame signing a non-descript contract

Rights and Wrongs

by Shannon Pierce

Antidiscrimination enforcement agencies, both federal and state, are likely going to be highly active in the next five years. Are Nevada businesses ready?

Faces of women overlapping in multi-color

Employers Are Budding Heads on Marijuana in the Workplace

by M. Tae Phillips and Melanie C. Cormier

As employment lawyers, we receive many questions from employers navigating marijuana legalization. Below, we answer the top three most asked questions.

Statue of Liberty holding a marijuana joint

Noncompete Extinct

by Mark W. Bakker

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a blanket ban on noncompete agreements that could radicalize post-termination protections afforded to employers.

Dark figure walking up red staircase to open door

The Top 7 Things to Know Before Filing for Divorce

by Best Lawyers

Consulting with a qualified divorce attorney can help you understand your rights and obligations when filing for divorce. Here are 7 things you should know.

Two golden wedding bands with a crack down the middle

5 Mistakes to Avoid In a Slip and Fall Lawsuit

by Best Lawyers

Learn how to avoid common mistakes during a slip and fall lawsuit. Report the accident, seek medical attention, gather evidence and speak to an attorney.

Yellow caution sign with blue wet floor background


Leadership and Commitment

by Justin Smulison

Malone Law leader and 2016 Medical Malpractice Law – Plaintiffs “Lawyer of the Year” Adam Malone discusses how his success transcends the courtroom and helps strengthen public and legal communities.

Suited man standing with arm resting on table

"Lawyer of the Year"

Woman with suit and blonde hair smiling

Heather Clauson Haughian

Privacy and Data Security Law

Atlanta, GA



The Most Common Slip and Fall Injuries

by Slawomir Platta, Esq.

The risks of slip and fall accidents can cause serious medical issues and costs for victims. It’s important to know which areas of the body can be impacted the most for serious injury after a slip and fall accident.

Skeletal figure slipping and falling on staircase

Trending Articles

Whistleblower Legislation Opens the Doors for More International Claims

by Justin Smulison

An Anti-Money Laundering Act, part of a recently passed Omnibus Budget in the U.S. Senate, is expanding protection for whistleblowers both domestically and internationally.

Shadow figure in spotlight against red and blue brick wall

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Best Lawyers Voting Is Now Open

by Best Lawyers

Voting has begun in several countries across the globe, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. Below we offer dates, details and answers to voting-related questions to assist with the voting process.

Hands holding smartphone with five stars above phone

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

Rising Transfer Taxes

by Angus C. Beverly

Transfer taxes in California are becoming a statewide trend with potentially national implications. Here is a breakdown of the effects in several cities.

State of California in orange with city in backdrop

Could Reign Supreme End with the Queen?

by Sara Collin

Canada is revisiting the notion of abolishing the monarchy after Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, but many Canadians and lawmakers are questioning if Canada could, should and would follow through.

Teacup on saucer over image of Queen's eye

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some

by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Australia.

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom

by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees

by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

Caffeine Overload and DUI Tests

by Daniel Taylor

While it might come as a surprise, the over-consumption of caffeine could trigger a false positive on a breathalyzer test.

Can Caffeine Cause You to Fail DUI Test?

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers

by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US


2022: Another Banner Year

by John Fields

Block O’Toole & Murphy continues to secure some of New York’s highest results for personal injury matters.

Three men in business suits standing in office

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect

by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller