Divorced parents: kids are the priority when holiday planning

By Tony Poland, Contributor

Holiday planning is essential, especially when it comes to reaching a time-sharing agreement for children after a divorce, says Toronto family lawyer and divorce recovery coach Leanne Townsend.

December is just around the corner, and now is the time to start making preparations, says Townsend, a partner with Brauti Thorning LLP,

“The Christmas holidays seem to be a time where there’s much more fighting than during other times of the year,” she tells “As a divorce lawyer, I find when everyone else is kind of slowing down for the holidays it can be a busy time for us because it just seems to trigger those disagreements and reactions in people.

“It’s an important time of year for most families, and it’s crucial that people put their children first.”

She says the holidays can be stressful enough. When custody issues are added to the mix, it can lead to even more emotional upheaval.

The first thing Townsend advises is to think beyond your own needs.

“Try to forget that maybe you are going to be upset that you can’t spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with your children every year,” she says. “You’ve got to think about what’s best for your children. The more organized and planned out things can be in advance, the better.

“Assuming both parents are involved in the child’s life, they have a right to have part of the holiday time with each of them,” and it’s important to set the wheels in motion as soon as possible, Townsend says.

“I start telling clients in October that if they haven’t got the holiday schedule worked out, they definitely should do it. Don’t wait until December,” she says, “It’s coming up fast. It has to be done well in advance and sorted out clearly so that everyone, including the children, knows what’s going on.”

Townsend says it’s vital to “recognize that it’s good for your child to have that relationship and time with their other parent, even if it means you’re having to compromise.”

“Children shouldn’t feel conflicted or guilty for wanting to spend time with the other parent, and that’s why it’s essential to keep them out of it,” she says. “It’s already stressful enough for them, and they have a right to guilt-free quality time with both of their parents during the holidays.”

Townsend says it’s vital to avoid being swayed by others, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

“People should recognize not to let their extended family get too involved in these decisions because they can just make it more complicated,” she says. “If your family is obsessed with you not having your children at a particular time, that’s their issue, not yours.”

It can be difficult to adjust to a new holiday reality, especially when parents are not having their children “for every tradition you have had in the past,” Townsend says.

“You have to be flexible and respect that the other parent has rights as well,” she says. “I always tell people to use this time to start some new traditions. It’s a stressful time for children, especially the first couple of years where they’re letting go of their past traditions. They’re having to adjust to it as well, so sometimes the way of making it more fun can be to create something new you have going forward.”

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