Getting a Divorce After Christmas

woman with a cellphone standing beside a christmas tree
Two Healthy Homes | Co-Parenting Classes

by Dr. Erica Ellis

Founder of Two Healthy Homes. Licensed psychologist, best-selling author, and a leading global expert on co-parenting and child centered divorce.

Like with many other things in life, timing seems to matter for many people when it comes to initiating a divorce. Data consistently indicate that January, often referred to by divorce lawyers as “Divorce Month,” is the month that most people in unhappy marriages seriously start to consider and explore the divorce process.  In addition, March is one of the two months (the other being August following the summer vacation) that most people eventually officially file for divorce. Let’s explore how time of year impacts this decision and whether waiting until after the holidays to initiate divorce proceedings makes sense for you and your children. 

Surviving the Holiday Season

Even in the happiest of families the holiday season can be extremely stressful.  Many people feel tremendous pressure to make everything perfect for everyone in their life. They struggle to find the best gifts for loved ones, to create quality time with extended family, to throw great holiday parties, and to make sure everyone around them is happy and having a good time. 

All these holiday related stressors are magnified when you and your partner are struggling in an unhappy marriage or are on the brink of divorce. There may be little or no spousal support for working together to make the holidays as happy as possible, especially for your children. You may find that the level of conflict between the two of you begins to escalate, along with your level of unhappiness and hopelessness. This may become a litmus test for whether your marriage is able to withstand the holiday pressures which further adds to the stress of trying to make this a happy time. 

As each year comes to an end, we all have the tendency to take stock of our lives and consider making changes in the areas that are causing us distress. Just as you may assess your weight or fitness level and plan to make lifestyle changes to improve them in the new year, you may take a hard look at the health of your marriage and how unhappy you may be. It may start to become even more apparent that this is not the family life that you want for yourself or for your children. Therefore, the Christmas and New Year holiday period can often be the breaking point for a marriage that is already faltering. 

Should Divorce Wait Until After the Holidays?

For many people in this situation, the goal becomes simply to survive the holidays. The motivation behind this goal is to provide the family, especially the children, with one last celebration together and not let news of an impending divorce ruin that possibility. As a result, people frequently avoid initiating a divorce during the holiday season with the plan to contact a divorce attorney once the holidays are over and the new year arrives. 

This plan makes sense under one essential condition, that the two of you can be civil with each other over the course of the holiday. Given that, there is one crucial question that you need to ask yourself: Can I put aside my negative emotions towards my spouse and work together with them to create an atmosphere of happiness and positive celebration?  It is essential that you are honest with yourself and answer that question as realistically as possible. If you choose to stay together and are not able to accomplish that goal, the outcome will inevitably be to expose your children and yourself to one last miserable holiday. That is clearly the opposite of what you hope to accomplish. 

This dilemma reminds me of the question that I so often get asked by parents in unhappy marriages: Should we stay together for the sake of the children? My answer is consistently that “it depends”. If a married couple are going to stay together in an atmosphere of tension, conflict, and turmoil then it is going to be emotionally damaging for everyone involved, especially the children. Under those conditions, it would clearly be best to end the marriage. However, if they can peacefully co-exist and work together on behalf of their children in an amicable and collaborative way then perhaps it is a viable alternative to the expensive and disruptive process of divorce.  

This is the same logic that applies to the question of whether to introduce or initiate the plan to divorce prior to the holiday season. If you and your spouse can get through that time peacefully then it makes sense to wait and create one last happy memory for you and your children. If that is not possible for one or both of you, it makes more sense to spend the holidays separately and spare everyone the trauma of a conflict-ridden last holiday that will forever be etched into all your memories. 

How to Manage Your Emotions

What further complicates this decision is that your spouse may not be aware that you are considering initiating a divorce. As a result, you alone may need to determine whether you are able to manage your negative emotions towards them during the challenging holiday season. Despite how unhappy you are in your marriage you have the power to put those feelings aside for a few weeks to get through the holidays. A few suggestions for doing so include:

  1. Keep your eye on the prize, which is protecting your children from unnecessary emotional damage
  2. Turn to your trusted support system to share your feelings and get necessary emotional backing
  3. Focus on gratitude for all that you have rather than focusing on what you perceive you are about to lose
  4. Put your attention on all the people that bring you joy rather than only on your marriage which causes you pain

The stark truth is that ending a marriage is never an easy process whether it is before, during, or after the holiday season. Depending upon your situation, there are some compelling reasons to initiate the process before the holidays and others that support waiting until the start of the new year. Regardless of the timing that you choose, be sure to make this decision in a child-centered way that focuses on how to best protect your children from unnecessary emotional harm


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