Effects of divorce on children during winter holidays


Maybe you have seen the movie “The Santa Clause” with Tim Allen playing Scott Calvin, who eventually becomes Santa Claus. Near the beginning of the movie, Scott Calvin’s ex-wife drops off their son Charlie to spend Christmas with his dad.

Charlie says to his mom, “Do I gotta stay?”
Scott’s ex-wife says, “Listen, you and your daddy are going to have a great Christmas, okay?”
Charlie says, “Will you pick me up tomorrow? Early?”
She says, “Of course.”
Charlie says, “Sunup?”
“You’ll be here?”
“You’ll be fine. Ah, merry Christmas, Charlie. I love you.”
“I love you too, Mom.”

Even if you didn’t see the movie, the short scene tugs at our heartstrings. Children of divorced families all over the planet can relate to Charlie, and Charlie’s mom and dad, at the holidays. Unfortunately, in real life kids do not end up having their dad end up becoming Santa Claus. But the movie does a good job of showing how difficult divorce can be for young children (and teens!).

Kids love the winter holiday season. The excitement builds starting after Halloween (we should wait until after Thanksgiving, but it grows harder every year!). It’s easy to understand how the holidays can be particularly difficult for newly divorced families, and even for families where the divorce is a few years old.

Families and More

Much of what happens around the holidays creates memories for the children. For instance, we know people with grown children who still watch “The Santa Clause” movie and “Elf” every Christmas. Starting the holiday traditions after divorce might best be done by blending old traditions with new ones you create with each parent separately, and eventually with a new parent and their families when one or the other spouse remarries. “Memory building” is hugely important. Be sure to take pictures!

Child psychologists and family counselors suggest that it’s usually a good idea to discuss gift-giving between the parents and grandparents from the “old” and “new” families… and if there is a lack of funds in any part of the family, that gift-giving should be handled with sensitivity and respect.

Furthermore, most children truly would rather have a parent’s time and attention over a gift. That’s where the child-custody (“parenting time”) agreements, as we have mentioned in previous posts, are very important. The best course is to allow communication to drive the family interaction, rather than a document that may have been drawn up when hearts were heavy, and reason and logic were absent.

Religious Holidays

Hanukkah and Christmas may happen around the same time of the year, but they are celebrated differently; and yet both can be hard to separate from the “retail bombardment” that occurs. Don’t give in. If your religion is strong, those beliefs are important to protect, and if the new family has a different belief, then all the more care should be taken to respect both. The children can grow from learning different ways of relating to their spiritual selves.

It’s all about doing right by your kids. Right?


Happy Holiday SignSouthern California attorneys Kelly R. McGrane-Irwin and Mark A. Irwin of Irwin & Irwin, Law LLP cater to families of children of all ages. We know that some families need extra help at the holidays. For unanticipated disputes, or those change-of-heart issues, we can help. You may have some of your preliminary questions answered here, but we would be very glad to talk to you if you need advice. Sometimes you need a stricter interpretation of the custody agreement. Sometimes it’s just better for everyone if you can work it out amongst yourselves, always depending on the relationship of all the parties. We have helped many families. If the custody agreement is just not working, you may need to start over. 714-222-3992.