Christmas is a magical time of year, particular for children.  However, if you have recently been through a divorce, it can be difficult to make arrangements about where they will spend the Christmas period.  Adam Pinkney, Solicitor in our Family & Relationships department, provides his top tips here on how families can make preparations and keep their children happy during the festivities.

Start discussions early

While we may be nearing December, if you still haven’t started those discussions, it’s important to do so now.  Leaving the plans until nearer the time will not help with the tensions between you and your former spouse and will bring more disruption and uncertainty for your children.

Being open-minded and realistic in your discussions is also important while reviewing different options, for example, you may wish to have the children overnight on Christmas Eve with the other parent having them from after lunch on Christmas Day.  Alternatively, you could decide to alternate each year and have the children spend the whole festive period with one parent each year.  There will be different factors as to which arrangement will work best for you and your family, such as the age of your children, where you are living and the distance between the families.

You may wish to consider using members of your family to help with the handover if your separation has been particularly tense.  This can help keep the atmosphere around the children as harmonious as possible during the transition period.

Put the children at the heart of your decisions

Even through an amicable separation, it can be difficult to put your own feelings aside; it is only natural that you will want to see your children as much as possible over Christmas and New Year.  It is crucial therefore that you take the time to look at the situation from your children’s perspective.  Depending on their age, you could discuss with them how they would like to spend their Christmas, ensuring that you act on their suggestions.

Once you have made your decision, communicate this with your children openly and try and make the experience a positive one, particularly if this will be their first Christmas with their parents separated.

Having said this, there may be situations where putting the children first will mean that they don’t spend time with a parent, such as in cases of domestic abuse.  You should consider the safety of your children and not agree to contact in order to placate your former partner.

Be careful when having discussions regarding Christmas that you are not having these in front of your children, as they will not wish to see their parents arguing over them.

Consider the other parent

Again, this can be difficult, especially if your separation was not amicable, however it can help to create a fair agreement and more harmonious environment for your children if you consider the impact of any arrangements on your former partner.  It can help to think about how you would feel if you were presented with the arrangements you are proposing.

Put the plan in writing

It is not necessary to make the agreement into a formal, legal document over Christmas arrangements, however having your agreed plans in writing over an email or a letter can provide some peace of mind that you have your plans in place.  This can also help resolve any misunderstandings as the Christmas period approaches.

Do not ignore existing Child Arrangements Orders

While you may not necessarily require a legal document for your Christmas arrangements, it is imperative that should you already have an existing Child Arrangement Order in place, the rules of that document are adhered to.  Your Order may have been written with plans for Christmas already agreed, in which case this must be followed.  If the Order does not specify plans for holiday seasons, then you should either follow the guidelines set out in the Order regarding contact on certain days, or we can assist with drafting a variation to the Order.

Do not make changes to the plan

Occasionally, last minute amendments cannot be avoided and some flexibility is required, for example through illness, but wherever possible do not make changes to the plan you have agreed.  This will not only lead to tension between you and the other parent in the future, but will also cause disruption and unnecessary stress for your children.  There is a fine balance between being flexible and considerate of the other parent while also creating a safe and consistent life for your children.

Do not rush to Court if you cannot agree

Coming to an agreement can be tricky, especially if your divorce or separation has been one of tension or is still ongoing.  With the variety of options available for alternative dispute resolution (ADR), it is recommended that parents try other ways to come to a decision without proceeding to Court.  Family Mediation or a collaborative approach can be incredibly useful and successful ways of using a neutral third party to assist you in making a decision without resorting to the costly and time-consuming Court proceedings.

If you are currently struggling to make plans with your former partner over arrangements for your children, then you can contact Adam or a member of the Family & Relationships department today on 01794 328688 or email moc.n1669561696ellub1669561696rekra1669561696p@yen1669561696knip.1669561696mada1669561696.

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Adam Pinkney

Solicitor

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