The holiday season is often a joyous time for family, friends, loved ones, traditions, vacations, and New Year’s resolutions. It can also be hectic and nerve-wracking. For those considering or in the midst of separating or divorcing, it can be even more stressful.

Communicating Your Decision to Separate or Divorce

For those contemplating whether to separate or divorce around the holidays, or those who have already decided to separate or divorce but have not shared this with anyone yet, it’s important to consider the “who” and “when” when bringing up separation and divorce.

The “who” is important because you want to make sure that those who hear about it don’t hear about it from the wrong person, at the wrong time or in the wrong way, especially your spouse and children. With many families communicating about the holidays, there is a potential for gossip.

Timing is also always important, especially around the holidays because you want to avoid you, your spouse or children forever associating the holidays with separation and divorce.

Your Spouse Knows You Want to Separate or Divorce, Now What?

For those who have already told their spouse that they want a separation or divorce, there are many steps you can take to help the holidays go smoothly.

First, who and when are again important as it relates to your children and extended family. Will you tell them long before the holidays or wait until after? Also, how will you tell them? It may be a good idea to see if you and your spouse can find a way to tell certain individuals, especially your children, together, and/or consult with a parenting coach or your children’s therapist (if they have one) to try to tell your children in an age-appropriate manner with a shared narrative.

Second, develop a detailed plan with your spouse for how to spend the holidays, and begin discussions about creating that plan early on. In developing a plan, consider the following:

  1. Will you spend the holidays with your spouse, or separately? Will you spend them alone or with extended family?  If you’re spending them with family, what will the narrative be to your family and children. In developing a plan, if you have children and decide that you are going to not spend the holidays with your spouse, consider that after divorce, it is common to alternate holidays. Therefore, take some time to consider who should have the children in odd years and who should have the children in even years. This often requires coordination with your extended family. Also, consider what you will tell your children the parent who will not be with you is doing, so they don’t worry about them.
  2. Agree to minimize discussions and arguments with your spouse in front of your children and family. Have a plan to tell your family the ground rules that are best for you and your family, such as asking them to refrain from discussing your spouse and the divorce during the holidays or in front of your children.
  3. Discuss coordinating presents for your family and children. Will you give presents from the two of you or will you give separate gifts, and what is the budget? If you have children, will the children have budgets or money to get the two of you gifts?

Developing a plan with your spouse takes a lot of compromise, patience and understanding. If you have children, try to focus on what you think is best for your children, and not just what you want. Consider getting guidance from a parenting coach or other mental health professional on what is best for your children.

Erin Kopelman is a divorce attorney who handles cases involving domestic relations and family law, including custody and visitation. For more information, contact Erin at [email protected].