Thinking about separating before the holidays? Experts share what you should and shouldn't do.
When cozy hibernation season rolls around and the glories of the holiday season are on the horizon, couples try their best to spend lots of time together and work on their relationship—right? Wrong. You'd think couples would want to get through the throes of winter and hibernate as a pair or family and wait until after the holidays before separating, but that's not the reality.
Studies show this is the time of year when divorce rates spike. Why? “Even if couples decide to separate mid-summer, we find they will wait until their kids are back into a regular routine before starting the separation process," says Barry Nussbaum, a senior lawyer at Nussbaum Law, which specializes in family law. "Parents often don’t want to disappoint their kids by cancelling summer plans that everyone has been looking forward to.”
If divorce is the route you want to take, these are the steps Nussbaum and Relationship Expert Andrea Syrtash advise, so the process causes the least amount of grief as possible.
1. Bite the bullet.
“There’s no 'right time' to divorce, but there are worse times," says Nussbaum. "The beginning or end of a school year are times when kids need their parents' attention and guidance, and not the time to be dealing with family acrimony. Holiday periods are also a time that should be focused on celebration, rather than discontent." In other words, there's always a reason not to break up and it doesn't do anyone any good to stay in a relationship that isn't working. "It's tough to be in a relationship that you know is ending, so for that reason alone, you don't really want to delay a breakup if you can avoid it," says Syrtash. "Before the winter holidays is one of the most common times that relationships break up since people don't generally want to attend holiday events with family and friends with a partner that they're splitting up with." Plus, separating before the holidays means you'll be starting the new year off on a new foot.
2. Lawyer up.
"Going through a divorce is difficult, plain and simple," says Nussbaum. "Obtaining a lawyer who is sensitive and has a specialized practice in family law should be first on one’s checklist,”
3. Coach your kids through the transition.
"Acknowledge that the transition is tough for them and assure them that you're still a family, even if you're not all living together." Let them know family traditions they love can stay intact, and they won't miss out on spending time with both parents. Just because you're separated doesn't mean you can't spend the holiday together—and for legal reasons, it's wise to still live together (more on this coming up).
4. Hone in on your inner GP and celebrate the holidays as a separated duo.
Do like Gwyneth Paltrow and ex Chris Martin and do one holiday tradition together. "Think about new traditions you can introduce at the holidays since you're entering a new chapter," says Syrtash.
5. Stay under the same roof.
Tempted as you might be to move out of your shared home, it’s wiser to wait until you have a court order in place. “Leaving puts your position in jeopardy since the courts usually strive to maintain a status quo,” says Nussbaum. If you leave and are only seeing your children on weekends and the children are doing well, courts will be reluctant to change this arrangement as it relates to parenting time and custody.
6. Stay off social media.
Sure, it’s empowering to let people know that you’ve decided to end things with your partner, but if your hope is to get joint custody of your children, lay off the temptation to overshare via social. “The court is a creature of the ‘paper’ trail, and once it’s out there, you won’t be able to get it back, which could negatively impact your case,” says Nussbaum.
7. Make a conscious effort to keep your cool.
Don’t let anger or negative emotions dictate your words or actions, especially if you share children with your partner. “Acting out of spite by refusing visitation, tossing your partner’s belongings, or intentionally preventing your children from bonding with your spouse’s new partner will only reflect poorly on you in front of a judge,” says Nussbaum. “Step back from the situation and think about how your actions will affect your case long term, recognizing that courts actually encourage people to find new partners and expect everyone to get along.” Court aside, you'll especially want to watch your words in actions for your kids' sake. "It's essential not to speak negatively about your ex to your kids," says Syrtash. They will be particularly sensitive during this time, and you don't want to give them another reason to feel sad or anxious or put negative thoughts about someone they love and look up to in their head.
8. Avoid retail therapy.
Hitting up the stores and buying things to cheer you up or make you feel good sounds reasonable in theory, but wait until your assets have been divided in court or you might be in for a rude awakening. “You may think those new purchases are safe because they’re your personal belongings, but the court may see your actions as suspicious and decide you acted unreasonably,” says Nussbaum.
9. Get spousal consent if you’re making plans for the holidays.
With Christmas holidays fast approaching, you may be flirting with the idea of getting out of town. But if you plan to take your children on vacation during a separation, you need to seek your spouse’s consent well in advance. “If you don’t, and your spouse refuses to give permission at the last minute, you won’t be able to take the matter to court because it doesn’t qualify as a legal test of “urgency,” says Nussbaum.
Of course, separating is never easy, but by following these steps and succumbing to the inevitable now, you can make things easier for you and your family in the future and hopefully have an enjoyable Christmas.