Holiday Harmony for Divorced Families: The Role of Perspective, Mediation, and Collaborative Divorce

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a classic American holiday film, starring James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who experiences depression and hopelessness on Christmas Eve, as he contemplates the loss of his business, home, and family. His situation brings about the intervention and perspective of an outsider (his guardian angel, Clarence), who shows George all the lives he has touched, especially those of his family.  Today, the story is considered one of the greatest holiday films of all time, and for many it still carries a message for the modern family. 

The holiday season is meant to be a time of joy, togetherness, and celebration. However, for divorced or separated couples and their families, it can often be a challenging and emotionally charged period. Decisions about visitation schedules, child custody during the holidays, time with in-laws, gifting, attending parties, changes in joint charitable donations, and even professional holiday events can turn the festive season into a source of stress and conflict. Mediation and Collaborative Divorce can help couples navigate these challenges, and achieve a more peaceful and productive holiday season, by providing objectivity and perspective to those affected.

Holiday Blues: Understanding the Link Between Divorce and Depression

Divorce is a life-altering event that can leave individuals feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and emotionally drained. Research has consistently shown that the stress of traditional divorce can lead to various mental health issues, including depression. As one example, a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (Amato, 2004) showed that divorce is associated with a significant increase in depressive symptoms. When divorce coincides with the holiday season, it can compound these feelings of sadness and loneliness. The expectations of joy and togetherness during the holidays can intensify the sense of loss and sadness, as highlighted in a survey by the American Psychological Association, which revealed that almost 40% of respondents had increased stress during the holiday season. For those going through divorce litigation, these numbers can be even higher.

How to Cope: Evidence-Based Strategies

For individuals, a few methods and strategies have been proposed as coping mechanisms for dealing with holiday stress or depression. 

  • Seeking professional help is often suggested as a first step, where the support of a professional counselor, therapist, or mediator during and after a divorce can significantly reduce depressive symptoms, especially one who specializes in divorce-related issues. 
  • Friends and family can provide critical emotional support and companionship during the holidays. Building a support system is highly encouraged; it’s vital to maintain social connections during difficult times.
  • Who doesn’t benefit from a little holiday pampering? Self-care can reduce depressive symptoms and motivate individuals to engage in activities that promote physical and mental well-being, such as regular exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques.  
  • Volunteering during the holidays is another powerful way to raise spirits and hope. Uplifting those in need helps us gain perspective and step away from our own problems for a while.
  • Adjusting expectations during the holiday season can often lead to greater life satisfaction, and this includes avoiding comparisons between your situation and others.  Creating new holiday traditions can also help reduce the emotional impact of change, especially when related to post-divorce reality.

Avoiding Drama: The Holiday Family Dilemma

For families during a marital separation or divorce, holidays are a time when complex dynamics come into play. According to a recent Psychology Today study, co-parents who are newly divorced often face the daunting task of figuring out how to share the holidays with their children. This can lead to disputes over visitation schedules and decisions about which parent the children will spend holidays with; sadly, traditional divorce proceedings may not adequately address the nuances of decisions like these.

Other research highlights the challenges of interparental conflict during the holidays.  Disputes related to holiday plans can lead to increased stress for all members of the family, especially children, where the negative impact of such conflicts on their emotional well-being is a significant cause for concern. Elsewhere, divorced or separated parents often struggle to navigate the delicate balance of holiday traditions and new family dynamics, suggesting the need for more effective family-based solutions.

Happier Holidays Ahead: The Lifelong Benefits of Mediation and Collaborative Divorce

Unlike traditional divorce litigation and the court process, mediation and collaboration can provide a more effective way to address complex marital dynamics, including event and holiday planning. Mediators are skilled at guiding spouses toward compromise and developing resolutions that ensure harmonious holidays for all involved. Collaborative divorce, mediation, and negotiated settlements emphasize open, guided communication and teamwork, which can be vital to finding a win-win resolution to holiday visitations, expenses, gifting, and planning.

The benefits of mediation can be significant. It can greatly reduce conflict during the holiday season, leading to a more peaceful and joyful experience for individuals, parents, and children. It can also generate ways for couples to create tailored solutions for holiday arrangements, considering the unique needs and preferences of both parties and their families. Such methods are often more cost-effective than traditional divorce proceedings, leaving more resources available for holiday-related expenses. The flexibility and efficiency of mediation and collaboration can lead to quicker resolutions, ensuring that holiday plans are in place well in advance.

Moving toward a Wonderful Life Perspective

Depression during the holidays during and after divorce is a real and challenging experience. By embracing the principles of mediation and collaboration, we can pave the way for a more joyous holiday season, allowing everyone to celebrate the spirit of togetherness during this special time of the year. As George Bailey discovered, the value of relationships is enduring, and highlights the importance of personal connections during troubled times. George’s relationships with his family, friends, and the people of his community were central to his ability to overcome adversity and showed that gratitude helps us appreciate the good things in life. 


Zeiderman, L. The Holidays Are Here: What Newly Divorced Co-Parents Need to Know

The first holiday season after divorce or separation is often the hardest. Psychology Today.

November 22, 2021.

Morning Consult. Holiday Stress. American Psychiatric Association Presentation, November 2021.

Amato, P.  The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children. Journal of Marriage and Family. March 2004, Pages: 1269-1287.

Ingber, H. How to Prepare for the Holidays After a Divorce.  The New York Times,

Oct 28, 2021.

Dhanu Dhaliwal Law Group Editorial Team. Should Divorced Parents Do Christmas Together? DDLaw. June 2023.

Gabe, A.  4 Ways to Split Christmas Between Divorced Parents., 

December, 2022.

It’s a Wonderful Life. Liberty Films, Los Angeles, CA. Release Date: December 1946. 

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