The key to a peaceful Christmas – Top Tips

Making a list and checking it twice. Family solicitor Marilyn Bell shares her advice for handling Christmas.
Thu 1st Sep 2016

Whether you are going through a divorce, approaching your first Christmas as a divorcee, or have been divorced for a number of years, the festive season brings a difficult set of challenges for parents to face.

In the months leading up to the festive season many parents will be starting to think about how to best share the care of the children with their previous partner or spouse over Christmas. As you may expect, there is unfortunately no easy answer, however, the key to a peaceful Christmas is to plan in advance.

How to avoid arguments

  • Recognise that the children should be able to spend time with each parent over Christmas. For example, alternate Christmas Day and Boxing Day each year. If this is impractical because of distance, then the children could spend the first part of the Christmas holidays with one parent and the next with the other. The plans could alternate each year.
  • Bear in mind that the focus of any care arrangements should always be on the best interests of the children.
  • Focus on the long term aim of shared parenting – children of separated parents are always happier if their parents are able to communicate effectively and civilly.

Practical tips

  • Agree in advance whether or not the children should also spend time with extended family members over Christmas. It is regrettably not uncommon for one parent to suddenly object to the presence of their former in-laws.
  • You may decide to share the cost of a Christmas present but it is usually best to get separate presents. If you can, touch base by email with your thoughts on presents so you don’t both get the same thing, or miss out on something that your child is desperately hoping for.
  • Think carefully about the reality of proposed arrangements. It is often easy to make a suggestion then run into difficulties later when the arrangement breaks down for reasons outside your control. For example, when agreeing handover arrangements over Christmas, make sure expected timings are clear. If a parent is dropping off the children after Christmas lunch then both parents need to know what time that is likely to finish.
  • Agree a Parenting Plan with a former partner. As well as setting out the arrangements for usual weekly care, a Parenting Plan can set out arrangements for holidays and other special days (for example, the children spending time with their mother on Mother’s Day). Parenting Plans can provide useful evidence of a separated couple’s intentions if the arrangements are later disputed.
  • Act immediately if you have real concerns that the other parent may take the children out of England and Wales over Christmas and not return them. You may need to make an urgent application to the Court for assistance in preventing this.

When faced with making arrangements for children over the Christmas period, ask yourself what decision will help make it a great Christmas for your children?