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As President George W. Bush said in his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 2008, Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to gather together and express gratitude for all that we have been given, the freedoms we enjoy, and the loved ones who enrich our lives.

But for families torn apart by an ongoing divorce, giving thanks and giving gratitude may be the farthest thing from their mind. For families going through a divorce one question invariably is how to celebrate the day – especially if there are children involved.

When people divorce, courts do not expect that they will spend the holidays together just because they share custody of children. But some families do give this a try, and for people who had an amicable divorce and still get along with the extended families, this might seem a short-term workable solution so that everyone still spends a holiday together. Generally this does not work in the long term as former spouses will have new partners, who may not wish to spend the holiday with their partners ex-spouse.

Traditionally, courts have alternated Thanksgiving with one parent having Thanksgiving with the children beginning the Wednesday before Thanksgiving until the Sunday after Thanksgiving one year, and the other parent having the kids the same time the following year. Of course this means that every year one parent will not get to enjoy Thanksgiving with the children, and for some families that can be very difficult on those left out and the children caught in the middle.

However, in the last few years, the traditional model of how divorced families alternate Thanksgiving has given way to other options. For example, one parent could have the day before Thanksgiving through the early afternoon, while the other parent takes the remainder of Thanksgiving and Friday. The weekend would remain the same as the regular schedule. Each year could alternate who has the first half or second half of Thanksgiving. This option works well for people who live near each other and with families in town. For former spouses with distance issues that require travel, more flexibility might be required to make splitting Thanksgiving feasible.

Another popular way to divide the holiday time is to not split the day, but rather split the weekend, with one parent having timesharing with the kids beginning the Wednesday before Thanksgiving until the Friday after Thanksgiving and the other parent having Black Friday until Sunday evening.

I realize that not all families can make these options work, but it is important to note that these options exist. The goal is to reduce tension and maximize each parent’s opportunity to spend some quality time with the children at Thanksgiving. With that as the goal, most families should be able to find a good compromise. Remember, your focus should be on what is in the best interest of the children, not on your own wants and desires. The truth is, kids generally want to be with both parents.

If you have questions about Thanksgiving and divorce, contact me – I can help.

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