Resolving Last-Minute Holiday Parenting Disputes

You try to plan ahead for the holidays. You make your gift list, set out your calendar, and maybe even get your Christmas cards in the mail. But some things, you just can’t plan for. The holidays can bring out the best and the worst in families. Here are some tips to resolve those last-minute holiday parenting time disputes with your ex-spouse or co-parent.

Resolving Holiday Parenting Disputes

What to Do When Christmas Schedules Collide

Your extended family gets together the same Saturday every year. There’s food, maybe some alcohol. Aunts and uncles kiss cheeks and share stories about when they were children. Your family finds some reason to get together every month or so, and you know these gatherings are boring for the children.

Your co-parent asks to spend that Saturday with the kids for their gift-giving this year, and offers to let you have both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in return. He explains that his mother will only be in town until Sunday and they haven’t been able to see her since the summer. The kids have been talking about seeing their Grandma for weeks, but everyone thought it would happen on Christmas Day.

What to Do: Give Kids the Priority at Christmas

It can be easy to get wrapped up in tradition and personal desires around the holidays. But just because something is the way it has always been done, doesn’t mean that’s what’s best for your kids. When scheduling conflicts create holiday parenting disputes, it is important to put your kids’ needs before your own and do your best to help them build positive memories for the holiday season.

Here, your family has seen the kids recently, and this family gathering will be more of the same. If you say no to your co-parent’s request, the kids will miss out on seeing their out-of-town grandparent.

So say yes!

You have to be your kids’ advocate with extended family and defend their right to spend time with both sides of the family. If you give your kids priority at Christmas, you’ll help them build good memories and strong bonds they’ll need later in life.

Who is Going to Get the #1 Gift?

Your daughter is finally old enough for her own tablet computer. You and your ex-wife have gone around about this for years, but now you’ve agreed she can have one (with parental safety controls of course!). But who’s going to give it to her? Who gets to see her open the gift? And where will it stay once she has it?

What to Do: Communicate Gift-Buying Ahead of Time

Holiday gift-giving can easily create tension between co-parents. Differences in income, budgets, and parenting priorities can sometimes turn a child’s wish list into a war zone. If you want to avoid last-minute holiday parenting time disputes, you will need to plan ahead and communicate with your co-parent.

The worst thing that can happen is for both parents to buy the child’s #1 gift without knowing it. Whoever’s gift-giving session happens later will see disappointment on their child’s face instead of joy. But if the more well-off parent is always the one giving the better gifts, it can sometimes create hard feelings, or make a child feel like the less affluent parent doesn’t love them as much. To avoid this crash of parenting choices, consider:

  • Planning gift-buying purchases together with your ex-spouse
  • Agree on a budget each parent can afford
  • Let the #1 gift be from both parents, with each contributing as they are able to the cost
  • Consider a joint gift-giving session for big-ticket items

Remember that your child loves both parents. If you can, come together to make the holiday season bright. It will help your child feel loved and supported to know that, even if their parents can’t be together you love them more than you hate your co-parent.

Cooperation should always be priority one when co-parenting around the holidays. By putting your children’s needs above your own and working with your ex-spouse for scheduling and gift-giving, you can help your children have a Merry Christmas and start the New Year off with the love and support of both of their parents.


Lisa J. Schmidt is a family law attorney at Schmidt & Long, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps parents and spouses resolve divorce and custody cases in Metro Detroit. If you need help with a family law dispute, contact Schmidt & Long today to schedule a consultation.