Holiday Gifts – It’s Not a Competition – Divorce, Parenting & The Holidays

Let’s face it, come holiday times some of the gift requests made by kids are pretty extravagant and can be EXPENSIVE! An iPhone X is costing $1,000 this holiday season! It can be tough enough to fulfill your child’s wish list even under the best of circumstances but it can be that much worse if the parents are not on the same holiday gifting page and especially if money is tight. What do you do?

Ideally, there will be an agreement in advance on how to shop for children’s holiday gifts in advance, whether or not to buy the hot-ticket item, whether it is an appropriate gift and if so, how to share the cost. If not necessarily 50/50, then perhaps in accordance with their income share. For example, for parents with a Child Support Guidelines case, their Guidelines identify how much income percentage is attributed to each parent (line 7 of the Guidelines). If the parents can agree to buy that all-important iPhone X, then maybe they do so with each party contributing their income percentage such as 40% by one parent and 60% by the other. Or, the parties agree to an overall budget consistent with their income. For example, if they have a total budget of $2,000, maybe one buys the phone and the other buys everything else so that it is an equal contribution across the board.

But come on, how many of us really have $2,000 to spend on a child for the holidays? Maybe that iPhone X is just not affordable and as much as you would like to get it for your child, it just is not feasible and it is time to look to a backup plan.

Whatever the pattern and practice was during the relationship or marriage should be the guiding principles for post-break up gift-giving. It is important to remember that even if the parents have broken up, the children did not divorce or break up with either parent. Parents are still parents and need to present a united front. One parent going out and buying the iPhone X knowing that the other parent cannot afford it or cannot afford to contribute to it is a terrible plan. While your child may be delighted that they got their wish and got the brand-new phone, and one parent may feel good that they got to be the giver of the #1 present of the year and, let’s be honest, that they “bested” the other parent by buying the phone, at the end of the day, it is not a competition.

Buying a gift that makes the other parent feel bad or look bad because they could not afford it (or objected to it, think a parent who buys the iPhone X for their 5-year-old) or makes it look to your child like they could not or did not want to share in giving it to them only makes for a bad recipe and not just for gift giving. This is a sign to your child that as parents you are not on the same page and one can be leveraged against the other and played off against each other. The joy of your child unwrapping that iPhone X will be short-lived when you realize after the fact that you have created a monster. It’s the iPhone X this year… will it be a car next year?

The holidays are about giving, yes, but it is also about the thought that counts. Think about that other parent and the lessons you are teaching your children when buying holiday gifts and how you and your co-parent treat holiday giving. The value of a gift is not correlated to the price-tag.  This opens up lots of opportunities to create new traditions to make gifts for one another, make the gifts time-related, donate to charities, help those in need or do any other number of things that does not make counting the number of the gifts or the monetary value of the gifts as priority one.


Julie Burick, Esq. is a partner with Adinolfi & Packman, PA.  She focuses her practice on all aspects of divorce and family law.