Christmas Contact Arrangements For Separated Parents

Whilst Christmas is undoubtedly one of the most special times of the year, it can also be a very stressful experience for separated families.  Unless arrangements are made in good time, parents often become embroiled in heated arguments about who will have the children over Christmas.  This will also have an impact on the children which nobody wants.

To avoid this happening here are some top tips for the Christmas period:

  1. Plan ahead – you need to have the discussions as early as possible to ensure that everybody is agreed and on the same page by the time Christmas comes around.  Leaving anything to the last minute will make it needlessly more stressful.
  2. Don’t involve the children – even if the situation is acrimonious, try to show a united front to the children.  Let them see that that as parents you have made a decision together for their benefit.  Do not ask the children to decide.  No child should have to choose between their parents and this will only upset them and you.
  3. Try to see it from the other parent’s point of view – as much as you want to spend every second of Christmas with your children, their other parent will be feeling exactly the same.  Try to remember Christmas is a special time for everyone and so some compromises will need to be made.  The children will also want to spend time with both parents so bear that in mind.
  4. Stay positive – children will revel in the magic of Christmas regardless of what particular day you spend with them.  Two Christmases with two families = two sets of presents! An added bonus for the children for sure!


What happens if you can’t reach an agreement?

It’s not always possible to agree on arrangements.  If you find yourself in this situation here are your options:

  • Legal advice – if all options have been exhausted and you cannot agree matters between yourselves, it may be time to take expert advice from a family lawyer.  They can advise you on what a realistic plan would be and can write to the other parent to try and reach an agreement.  Professional letters do carry weight and sometimes this can help reach a resolution swiftly.
  • Mediation – you should always consider mediation as a means of reaching a resolution.  Trained mediators can help parents improve their communication and come to a swift conclusion.  If an agreement is reached at mediation then parents can simply follow the agreed plan.  This can also be useful as future Christmas plans, along with other holidays can also be agreed. In fact, mediation is a mandatory requirement that all parties must engage in before court proceedings are issued.
  • Court - The final option, which really should be a last resort, is making an application to the court. The court is very clear in that wherever possible, parents should sort out arrangements between themselves. The Family Court can make what is knows as a Child Arrangements order which defines who the child lives with and how often they spend time with the other parent.  This can also specifically be in relation to Christmas arrangements. The courts paramount concern will be the welfare of the children and what is in their best interests.

It is important to note that such an application at court is unlikely to be heard prior to Christmas 2023.  That is unless there are safety or welfare concerns and the children are at risk.  In that case an application should be made without delay.


What are the typical arrangements for children at Christmas?

There is no right or wrong answer to this.  Families should decide based on what works best for them and the children.  Lots of factors need to be considered including, distance between homes, extended family members, other siblings, the children’s existing routines to name but a few.

Nevertheless, some common arrangements include:

  • Spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with one parent, then going to the other parent for the rest of Christmas day and night.
  • Spending Christmas day and Boxing Day with one parent and New years Eve and New Years Day with the other parent.  This could work if the children are spending one week of the Christmas holidays with each parent.
  • Arrangements are typically alternated every year so that both parents get to spend Christmas day with the children.
  • If parties are amicable, some parents choose to spend the day together for the sake of the children.  This can be particularly helpful in the early days giving the children time to adjust. 

This list is not exhaustive.  All families will have their own way of doing things and that is absolutely fine.  The courts would not criticise an arrangement as long as it works for your family and is best for the children. 


How we can help?

If you feel that you simply cannot come to an agreement about Christmas arrangements, we can advise and help.  Our team of specialist family lawyers are on hand to provide comprehensive support and information to help you through difficult times.

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