All families going through a divorce, particularly in the early stages, confront a myriad of emotions and concerns when it comes to dividing up time with the children during the holidays. For Jewish families in particular, the fall brings a host of holidays which need to be addressed. The major holidays, which the majority of Jewish families celebrate, include Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Other important fall holidays, celebrated by more observant Jewish families, include Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, and Simchat Torah, Rejoicing with the Torah.
When meeting with a client, it is important to ascertain which holidays their family has historically celebrated and, going forward, which holidays your client wishes to continue celebrating. Additional questions you may want to ask your client include whether or not they drive on the holiday, when they attend synagogue and which meals are most important to them.
You should also understand that while the Jewish holidays are always in the fall, the days change every year based on the Jewish calendar, and not the secular calendar. Moreover, whether or not a holiday falls on shabat (Friday sundown through Saturday sundown) may affect the celebrations, again depending on their individual level of observance. Most likely, the answers you may receive from each client will be wide and varied.
For some families, it works better to divide up each individual holiday. In others, it may work better to alternate entire holidays. One mistake to avoid is to assume that because your former client celebrated one way, that is how everyone celebrates. Over time, I have learned to treat each client’s issues and concerns regarding the holidays fresh, and keep in mind that there really is no standard practice. It is only after I have an understanding of my client’s historical practices and personal preferences that I can begin to craft a proposal and/or discussion with the other side.
It is often difficult to explain to a client, especially when the divorce process is new, why they cannot do what they have always done and why their children cannot necessarily be with them on all of the holidays. Moreover, since many of these holidays involve spending time with extended family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, this frequently becomes even more sensitive because your client may not be able to envision a family gathering without their children present.
As an effective divorce lawyer, the more you can understand your client’s priorities, educate them on the process and range of options, and help them craft a proposal that works for both parties, the better off your client and their family will be. In this regard, creativity and ingenuity goes a long way. For many Jewish clients, this time of year is very important to them. Our job as their lawyers and confidants should be to help them navigate through this busy, but important, New Year.