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Separated parents: Agree your Christmas and New Year plans early

Christmas and New Year can be a difficult time for families, especially for separated parents and their children. Starting the conversation about arrangements early can help to ease the stress for everyone.

The festive period brings many challenges for separated parents. Children will generally have a few weeks off school and no two families celebrate the festive season the same. Some celebrate on Christmas Eve, others focus on New Year’s Festivities and some don’t celebrate at all. Regardless of your individual preferences, agreeing arrangements can be challenging when you are separated parents, and even more so around the end of the year.  Parents are often trying to juggle work and social events, possibly changing shift patterns, the demands of wider family, Christmas shopping, the list is endless! And on top of all that, the endless pressure to ensure that Christmas continues to be a special time for your children, building positive memories together.

There’s no perfect way to approach making your child arrangements for the holiday season.  What works for other families won’t necessarily work for you, but here is a guide which you may find useful if you don’t know where to start.

  1. Check any formal arrangements

If you have a Child Arrangements Order in place, these should cover contact over the holiday or festive periods, and therefore should be followed to avoid an enforcement application.

  1. Start early and be prepared

Christmas creeps up on even the most enthusiastic of us… mince pies appear in the shops in September, high-street lights follow in October, Nativity plays are on the horizon.

Prepare a schedule of your fixed plans, and those of your children.  Decide which of the school events you would ideally like to attend, and how you would like to spend the “key dates”.  If you can, encourage your ex-partner to do the same.  If you have been separated for more than a year, check back over your calendar to see how you arranged the period in previous years.

Give some thought to how the festive period could be divided.  Maybe you could agree to the children spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning with your ex-partner, with you spending time with them over lunch and in the evening, and perhaps on New Years’ Eve. Or it may work better for your family if the children spend the majority of the Christmas break with you this year, with a view to alternating the arrangements year on year to ensure fairness.

It is important to start discussions early to avoid any assumptions forming and so that the children know in advance what the agreement is.  Be open and honest, go into the discussions with a spirit of compromise, be prepared to concede that all of your priorities may not be considered as such by them, and that they will have competing demands.  Be fair, and consider how a lack of flexibility will impact on your ex-partner.

  1. Keep child-focussed

You will both undoubtedly agree that the key to successful child arrangements, over Christmas and throughout the rest of the year, is ensuring that the children are clear on what is happening, happy, and able to relax wherever they are.  It is easy to get swept up in what you and your wider family need rather than focus on making sure the holidays are a magical, special time for all of you.

It may be difficult for you and your ex-partner to work together, but demonstrate to your children that you can agree amicably and resolve any issues by working through them calmly.

  1. Resolving disputes

If you are struggling to reach an agreement with your ex-partner or find it difficult to work together, you may want to consider talking through your options with a mediator, who would help you both to work through your concerns and to find common ground. Alternatively, our Family and Matrimonial team can help you to negotiate and reach an agreement.

After exhausting all other options and as a last resort, you could consider asking the Court to make a Child Arrangements Order to cover holiday plans for Christmas and other times of the year.  However, this can be a costly and time-consuming process, and is a stressful experience for many.  Our experienced Family lawyers can help you to guide you through this process.

  1. Plan for the future

If you have formal arrangements in place which do not cover holidays and events, and you are finding it difficult to agree between you, it may be a good idea to extend your agreement to cover these times.  If you have a Court Order in place, this can be varied to include key times of the year and holiday periods.

Remember that it is your child’s right, and usually in their best interests, to have a relationship with both parents.   Overall, clarity and certainty are key to having a calm and joyful festive season.  Stick to the plans and set a good example.  And give yourself time and space to relax too.

  • If you require legal help or advice, our experienced family law team are here to assist you so please do contact us on 0118 951 6200 and ask to speak to a member of our Family team. We can also point you in the direction of specialist mediators.
  • If you would like any further information or advice relating to divorce or family matters, our Family & Matrimonial team would be delighted to assist.