Divorce and the Holidays: A Guide to Planning Ahead

By Catherine Shanahan, CDFA
My Divorce Solution

  December 6, 2021

January is often dubbed “divorce month” because many people say, “Let’s make this the last good holiday for the kids and our families” or “Let’s wait until after the New Year when the kids go back to school.” No matter what the reason though, divorce is never easy. There is no “good” time for a divorce – period.

They say, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” But is it, during a divorce? I’m a divorcee and I wished the first post-divorce holidays away altogether. I also can tell you from experience that there is no best last holiday together. My first Christmas as a divorcee went much smoother than expected. I worked diligently to set realistic goals and put my children’s thoughts and feelings first. That first Christmas alone I even enjoyed the two hours I had alone with my glass of wine before the children returned home for dessert.

However, everyone is different, and both parties involved must be willing to put their children’s feelings and needs first. Grieving the loss of a relationship and recalibrating your lifestyle during and post-divorce is necessary and cathartic. But it doesn’t have to consume your holidays (unless you want it to). My best piece of advice is if you’re thinking about divorce to plan ahead.

Here are 8 key steps you can take now to plan ahead if you’re thinking about divorce:

  1. Complete a budget

    Review your spending over the past year. Ask your spouse to do the same since you’ll need this moving forward. Make a holiday spending budget with and without your spouse. Overspending over the holidays adds a lot of stress to happily married couples, so you can imagine the stress it adds to divorcing couples. Alleviate some of this anxiety by setting expectations on gift-giving. I suggest you both set cash aside and agree to only spend that. If cash is not an option, agree to a set amount to charge and write it down.
  2. Exercise caution with credit card usage and get a credit report

    Get a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com. Credit reports allow you to see all outstanding bills and credit problems (if any). If you do not have a card in your own name apply for one now. When going through divorce, money may become scarce and expenses will need to be paid by credit. If you only have joint cards, access may be shut off by your spouse. Keep in mind that well-meaning friends or family may advise you to max out your credit, but ultimately you will be responsible for repaying the debt.
  3. Make copies of year-end financial statements

    Around this time of year, year-end financial statements will be generated. Look for them in the mail and make copies of anything you find. If you have access to statements from prior years copy those as well. Finally, make copies of any/all credit card statements.
  4. Don’t commingle monetary gifts

    If you receive monetary gifts, keep them in a safe place outside of your home. Don’t commingle them. Explore obtaining a safety deposit box or leave money with a trusted family member. You should also store any financial statements and personal documents outside of the home.
  5. Be mindful of what you post on social media

    Once you post, it stays there forever. Think of how others perceive what they see and how it would affect your children. The world doesn’t need to know your personal business. Posting your emotions and your personal affairs on social media can lead to those emotions taking over and prevent you from making important decisions in the future. If you are flooded with emotions, keep a journal close by. Journaling is a safe way to acknowledge and move through your feelings.
  6. Start thinking about your divorce team

    Some of the advisors you may need are a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), mediator, therapist, CPA, Certified Financial Planner, and an attorney. We can help you assemble your divorce dream team. We work with a trusted network of divorce professionals who are familiar with that we do and with our MDS Financial Portrait™ tool. You can head over to My Divorce Solution to take your free assessment when you are ready to take the first important step toward gaining financial clarity.
  7. Start a new holiday tradition with your children, family, and/or friends this year

    Create new traditions – change can be fun! Talk with your kiddos about what might be fun for them to try that’s brand new. Include other families (not just immediate) in your activities. Try celebrating on a different day or somewhere new or add in something you grew up with that your kids never knew about (flocked Christmas tree, anyone?!). Buy gifts for a needy family. Volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen. Make this YOUR holiday. Be realistic though – things are going to feel off this year. And that’s okay! Be open to a fresh start and a more fulfilling year ahead. Trust us, we speak from experience, it really can happen! Maybe post-divorce you can significantly scale back your budget and do a fun at-home photo in matching holiday pjs. Reinvent your traditional holiday menu with fun new additions to the menu or something completely unconventional. How about adding macaroni and cheese to your Christmas dinner menu, or how about adding a “sushi night” to your New Years Eve lineup. The ideas are endless!
  8. Finally, play your favorite holiday music or journal about things you’re grateful for

    Write down what you are grateful for in this moment like good health, an opportunity for something new, or time with your friends and family. Remember, this is a wonderful time of the year to focus on the positive aspects in your life and the opportunities that await you in the future.
Since my divorce, I made a New Year’s resolution to “Make the Rest of My Life the Best of My Life.” Here’s a list of some of our clients’ New Year’s resolutions. These women are either separated, divorced, or are currently in the process.
  • “Create a budget and STICK TO IT.”
  • “Always remember I have options! That way I never stay stuck.
  • “Embrace whatever life throws at me and accept that every day happens for a reason.”
  • “Forgive and let go and move forward.”
  • “Live the best and most fulfilling life I can and just be happy.”
  • “Make a point to no longer feel guilty over things I can’t control.”
  • “Looking to be excellent!!”
  • “Get through a day without thinking how horrible my ex is.”
  • “Once and for all to deal with my anger and allow myself to fully embrace happiness”
  • “Focus on myself more; I’ve never really done that.”
  • “Maintain a healthy body, be mindful, and practice loving kindness!”
Being an experienced Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) has allowed me to help many people through the divorce process. Raising five children has allowed me to understand what it is like to love unconditionally. The holidays aren’t easy for lots of people, not just those going through divorce. And, even though it will never feel as raw as it does this first time, it’s probable that your divorce will impact future holidays as well. Understanding this, and accepting your emotions as they come, is the best gift you can give yourself. I want to assure you, in time, things do get better! You may not have been able to control your divorce, but you can absolutely control what your holidays look and feel like from here on out. Remember… today is YOUR Day!

Catherine Shanahan is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst at My Divorce Solution who partners with Karen Chellew, LL. My Divorce Solution is committed to helping divorcing couples develop a transparent plan via a three-phase process to optimize the outcome of their divorce. Phase 1 is the development of the financial portrait.

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