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How to avoid co-parenting disputes during the holidays

It's that time of year. Like many Minnesota families, you and your children are likely getting ready for the hustle and bustle of another holiday season. This year might be a bit different if you also happen to be one of the many families in the state who have recently gone through divorce. Are you a bit worried about your first post-divorce holiday season? You're definitely not alone in your struggle. Many parents worry that co-parent disputes will bring their holiday joy to a screeching halt.

The good news is there are several things you can do to lessen the chances of that happening. It's no secret that divorce prompts significant changes in children's lives, but it doesn't necessarily have to ruin them. If you're determined to help your kids adapt to your new lifestyle in a healthy, productive manner that includes enjoying the holidays, you can start by being proactive and by having a support plan in mind if a problem arises that you don't feel equipped to handle alone.

Step 1: Think and plan ahead

A last minute attitude is likely to spark trouble, especially if you and your ex discover that you have made plans for the kids for the same date. A less stressful approach is to incorporate a holiday schedule into your co-parenting agreement. You can keep it basic or get as detailed as you like, but the point is to get it all in writing, sign it and seek the court's approval.

Doing so automatically helps avoid confusion because all you have to do is glance at your holiday co-parenting calendar to know who gets the kids on which days. This type of agreement can also include special occasions throughout the rest of the year, such as birthdays, vacation breaks from school or even school events.

Step 2: Be willing to cooperate and compromise

While you may have a detailed, written plan regarding your children's holiday schedule, it's always best to remember that life has a way of throwing unexpected curve balls straight down the pike. Someone might get sick, a job schedule might change with little to no notice or some other issue might arise that prompts a need to change the schedule you have in writing.

Children fare best when they witness their parents being willing to work as a team for their own sake. A sure-fire way to ruin the holidays is to refuse to appease a co-parent's request or to switch to a plan B when needed, likely leading to arguments and unhappy family members.

Step 3: The kids are the priority

Like all good parents, you want what's best for your children, especially as they navigate their first holiday season after your divorce. If they want their "other" grandparents to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner, for instance, or are hoping that you and your ex will agree to both be at a special family gathering with them, it's worth considering rather than risk causing them more stress than they've already experienced.

Finding a new normal for the holidays can be challenging when you have undergone a major life change such as divorce. If both parents are willing to make the children's best interests the central focus, there's a good chance things will work out in a positive way.

Step 4: What if both parents aren't willing?

Divorce is an intensely personal matter. Emotions can be all over the place, and it often takes time to work through resentment, anger or sadness. Sometimes, an otherwise rational adult can let his or her emotions get in the way of doing what is best for his or her children. 

If your ex is somehow impeding your parent/child relationships, is refusing to adhere to the terms of a court order or is otherwise causing stress and complications during the holidays because of a legal issue, you can seek outside support to help you protect your parental rights because court orders are legally enforceable.

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