The festive season can be a difficult time for families after a separation – even for those parenting together who have been apart for several years or when the separation is amicable.

Navigating your way through the festive season is an important part of the journey you, your children and wider family members all have to go through.

Separated parents usually both want to spend time with their children during the build up to Christmas Day. This is especially important after a year of Lockdowns, travel restrictions and family members being required to shield. These factors have certainly impacted upon the amount of time we have spent together this year and limited our ability to celebrate important occasions properly.

Arrangements for Christmas contact can be made by a formal agreement, an informal agreement between parents or, where agreement cannot be reached, a court order.

Even though it can be difficult for all involved, there are ways to avoid these arrangements becoming stressful for all concerned.

Here are some helpful tips to guide you through the process:

Plan ahead

It is best to talk about arrangements as early as possible. If you wait until December to try and resolve this issue and agreement cannot be reached, inevitably, one of you will be disappointed. Contact a family law solicitor in good time. If there are disagreements and assistance from a family law solicitor is required, there will be plenty of time to address matters.

Communicate with your children

Where possible, you should ask the children for their views. It is important to speak to your children about how they feel about arrangements for Christmas Day. Is splitting Christmas Day so that they can

see both of you important to them or would they prefer to spend a block of time with each of you? Think about how you might be able to have celebrations on different days. Children place a lot of importance on Christmas Day – try putting your difficulties aside during the festivities.

Depending on their age, it may be appropriate to ensure the children know what is happening and when. If the arrangements do need to be changed, avoid doing so at the last minute and without explanation. If you are on the receiving end of a request to vary the arrangements, avoid temptation to automatically dismiss it – they may have received a last minute invitation which the children might enjoy or their employer may be making requests of them. Try to avoid assuming the worst of your ex-partner.

Consider the logistics

Is it practical for your children to spend time with both of you on Christmas Day? Try to avoid creating difficulties by agreeing to arrangements which, from a travel or cost perspective, are prohibitive. Christmas Day can be exhausting enough for children without factoring in complicated travel arrangements.

Be mindful of bad weather

Winter weather can be incredibly unpredictable and it is useful to have an “emergency plan” that would come into play if something unexpected were to happen. Know how to best contact each other, or a close relative, in the event of an emergency.

Put the children first

The children’s best interests should be the paramount consideration. It is for the adults to consider this and act accordingly when making arrangements for the festive season. The aim is to give your child as great a Christmas with each of you separately as they had when you were together. It should not be about point scoring or “out-spending” your ex-partner on gifts and treats for the children. Consider discussing who is buying which gifts and agreeing specific Christmas activities to each parent such as the pantomime and the Christmas market.

Existing arrangements

Consider whether the existing arrangements for contact need to be altered in the lead up to Christmas day to accommodate, for example, the children’s attendance at Christmas parties or visiting relatives they may not see at Christmas time.

Christmas traditions

Look at family traditions you have which are important to your children. Be prepared to compromise and embrace new traditions.

Put it in writing

Once an arrangements have been made it is worthwhile exchanging text messages or emails to confirm what has been agreed. Communicating your arrangements will help to avoid any misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

At the end of the day, compromise and negotiation are far more effective than conflict and are more likely to foster a positive working relationship between separated parents. It is helpful to consider the other person’s viewpoint whilst focussing on what is best for the children. This is good advice to apply at any time of the year.

If you are unable to reach agreement regarding the arrangements for Christmas, contact our family law team for advice as soon as possible.

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