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'Tis the season

Tips and tools for avoiding familial conflict during the upcoming holiday season…

By Gregory Gilston, Esquire

November 1, 2o22

With the holiday season fast approaching, people around the country are preparing to break bread with their family members. While many individuals embrace the holiday season and the cheerful vibes associated therewith, this time of the year can be very difficult for many people as well. If you are in the midst of an ongoing custody disagreement, or if your marriage is headed towards divorce, you may very well fall into this category of individuals who are dreading the upcoming holiday season.

Though your impending family interactions may seem daunting, it is important to employ certain tips and tools to minimize conflict along the way. Otherwise, interactions involving custody exchanges can turn into custody woes, conversations with in-laws can turn into screaming matches, and dinner with your soon-to-be ex-spouse can result in broken dishes and doors.

The goal should always be to have your family relationships remain conflict-free throughout the holiday season and beyond. Here are some recommendations for ways to stay civil and transparent with the opposing party in your family law matter during the holidays:

Tip #1: Communicate respectfully…

Ensure that all communications regarding custody exchanges are in writing, and well-documented. In order to accomplish this, co-parents involved in ongoing custody litigation should utilize the Our Family Wizard (OFW) platform to communicate about custody exchanges, holiday schedules, drop-off times/locations, pick-up times/locations, and coverage when one parent is unavailable. The OFW platform helps parents keep tabs on their co-parenting communications, and helps parents stay mindful of what they say to each other, and how they say it.

While some practitioners view this platform as a method for building evidence against the other parent, this platform is most effective when used as a platform for holding parents accountable, and keeping conversations focused and civil. There is a small monthly fee associated with OFW, but the burden of the cost of ongoing litigation far outweighs the burden of the subscription costs.

Tip #2: Get in, get out…

If you are driving your child(ren) to or from a custody exchange, make it quick. If you are dropping them off, say what you need to say to your child(ren) during the ride to the custody exchange. Upon arriving at the exchange location, help the kids gather their belongings and see them into the car of the other parent, without making a fuss. Wave goodbye to your child(ren), get back in your car, and drive away. If you are sad to see them go and need to shed a tear, try to refrain from displaying any emotions until you have driven away. If you have concerns about the child’s safety in the other’s parent’s vehicle (i.e.: if one parent does not have a car seat), respectfully send a written request confirming that the safety concern has been resolved, prior to the custody exchange.

The last thing you want to happen at a custody exchange is for an argument to ensue because the conditions of the exchange make you feel uneasy. While you may be justified with your concerns, the other parent may not understand your point of view which could lead to an argument during the exchange. If you have any ongoing concerns before entering into the custody exchange, ensure that they are addressed with the other parent before the custody exchange actually occurs. If these concerns could not have been addressed prior to the custody exchange, try to have a friend or family member accompany you to the exchange so that somebody can witness and document the events that do occur.

Tip #3: Don’t argue in front of the child(ren)…

Unfortunately, for many families in America, the end of the holiday season does not mark the end of the relational turmoil experienced amongst so many married couples today. Statistics show that the largest number of divorce filings in the United States often occur in the month of January. This is because many parents with minor children wait until January to avoid interfering with the holiday festivities -- for their children’s sake.

With that in mind, many couples on the brink of divorce end up spending the holiday season together anyway. But let’s face it; some people just can’t stand their spouse. They can’t stand to look at their partner, listen to their voice, or even eat a meal with them. And anything their spouse says or does is completely irritating.

For most people – this is a clear-cut sign that divorce may be imminent. Yet no matter how much an individual dislikes their partner, it is important for that person to try their best not to put this contemptuous behavior on display in front of the children. Ultimately, the more a person displays their relationship’s conflict in front of the children, the more likely it is that the kids will suffer as a result. Nevertheless, these attempts at avoiding conflict are sometimes unsuccessful.

If you feel like an argument is brewing during the holiday season, do not let the tension get past the point of no return. Before the tension escalates, give yourself a break. Get some air. Remove yourself from the situation. You are only human. Do not stay put in a situation where the tension is palpable.

However, it is important to remember that in every marriage it takes two to tango. If your partner is not capable of backing down, sometimes it is best to take the high road and physically remove yourself from the situation before the powder keg explodes. It may not feel like you are taking the high road at the time you walk away, but tensions generally deescalate when one party removes themselves from a tense situation. If the child(ren)’s safety seems at risk in the moment that tensions are heightened, offer them the chance to remove themselves from the situation as well. And while this is all occurring, try your best to maintain some perspective… think to yourself that it could be worse. Truth be told -- if an argument does occur, your holiday dinner will be a memorable one, but for all the wrong reasons.

Ultimately, everybody wants to enjoy the holiday season. However, some individuals do not look forward to spending time with their family members during this time of year… and for good reason! By employing these tips for avoiding and resolving conflict, perhaps your holiday season may be somewhat jollier this time around.

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