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Ex-etiquette: For happier holidays, put kids first

Q: My ex and I split up about four months ago and when we did, we agreed to a holiday schedule for the kids. I was to have Thanksgiving this year and she was to have Christmas. When the court papers came in the mail, both holidays were assigned to my ex this year. She said we have to stick to the court order and would not allow me to see the kids on Thanksgiving. Plus, she said she plans to stick to the court order for Christmas as well. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Good ex-etiquette is to “Put the children first” (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1) when making decisions, and I can’t imagine how preventing children from seeing their other parent around the holidays (or any other time, for that matter) is in their best interest. Of course, if the child is in danger or lives a great distance away or if a vacation has been planned, then it goes without saying that seeing the other parent is questionable, but you’re describing an angry ex who is using a mistake in the court order as a weapon. If that is so, that’s very bad ex-etiquette.

This is not to say that court orders are not useful. They set a precedent and offer parents a guide to follow. They’re quite handy when parents absolutely cannot agree and if a parent does not return a child or is perpetually late, a court order supplies a standard by which the law can enforce the order. But, court orders are really just a default, in a sense. If parents agree to change the order in any way, that’s just fine. Key word: Agree. Parents who are no longer together can make any agreement they want – court order or not. They should document the change in writing to protect against one of them losing their temper and changing their mind, but the bottom line is if mom knew that your court order was wrong, she could have very easily abided by your original agreement (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 8, Be honest and straightforward) and notified the court of the mistake. (It is important to note, however, that police will enforce whatever the court order states, even if parents agree to change things, so it’s always best to have the order changed to reflect the parents’ mutual agreement.)

The choice to not let you see the kids this year could very well come back to bite her. I suspect that next year both holidays are designated to you and if you stick to your guns, she won’t see the kids either. Here is where Ex-etiquette for Parents rules No. 5 and No. 6 come in. (“Don’t be spiteful” and “Don’t hold grudges”). Don’t try to get mom back for her bad judgment. It will just hurt your children. They don’t see her as a vindictive ex. To them, she’s just Mommy. If you’re not going out of town and live nearby, consider setting aside a few hours so they can see their mother. This sets a precedent of good will and compromise (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 10) and next time either of you wants to deviate from the order, hopefully you will both be open to cooperating – in the best interest of your children.

Email Dr. Jann Blackstone at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.