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Navigating Holidays Post Divorce

The holiday season, usually a joyous time for many families, can also be stressful, especially for parents and children affected by divorce and custody matters. The excitement of the last few months of the year is often replaced by conflict, doubt, and anxiety surrounding visitation issues. The holidays can become especially challenging when complicated issues specific to Judaism arise.

Oftentimes, conflict occurs over parenting schedules on Jewish holidays, as they are traditionally celebrated with extended family and can span over several days. Many family law attorneys use standard language in parenting plans and divorce decrees, which likely include Christmas and Easter parenting time. These “one size fits all” documents often do not discuss Hanukah, Passover, Yom Kippur, Sukkot or other widely observed Jewish holidays.

Difficulties can also arise when parents cannot agree on a level of observance of Judaism. While many couples choose to continue to raise their children Jewish, matters such as school attendance (religion-based or traditional), synagogue attendance, and holiday observation are sometimes a source of conflict as one spouse is typically more “religious” than the other.

Although these complications can lead to a contentious relationship among parents, there are several beneficial methods to dealing with these types of problems before they arise. Having clear and continued conversations with a former spouse and close family members regarding scheduling and observance can promote open dialogue, helping resolve arguments based on misunderstandings. Of course, this is often times simply aspirational and not realistic.

Seeking the right legal counsel can also prove to be an asset, especially from an attorney knowledgeable in Jewish holidays and Jewish family traditions. An attorney can help draft the a Jewish-specific parenting plan. For example, instead of the widely adopted “Winter Break holiday schedule” Jewish families can craft their own holiday and school break plans. Often times mainstream attorneys do not specifically curate their parenting plans to fit Jewish observance.

An effective parenting plan can be a valuable reference guide in future years. To avoid undue holiday stress, parents can plan any celebrations, trips and family events well in advance. Keeping an open line of respectful communication with an ex-spouse, if possible, is important in keeping the holidays a fun and enjoyable time for the children.

Once the legal documents are finalized, remembering to be patient with the new family dynamic is key. The holidays will entail packing, unpacking, driving and schedule coordination. Patience will set the tone for an easier transition from home to home and ensure the entire family looks forward to the holidays for years to come.

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