For many, Christmas is usually an enjoyable time full of festivities and family get-togethers. However, for families that are separating or divorcing, the festive period may bring added stress and worry to what is already a difficult time. For parents who are trying to come to an arrangement regarding child contact, there may be disagreements surrounding Christmas. Finding something that works for everyone can often be difficult, so we’ve put together some key points for you to consider when trying to navigate Christmas time as a separated or divorced couple with children:
Is it practical for you and your child’s parent to spend the festive period together?
If you and your child’s other parent are in a position where you can be amicable and cooperative on Christmas day, you might want to consider whether you can spend Christmas day together as a family.
If your Christmas day can go off without any animosity between you and your child’s other parent then spending the day together may help to create happy memories for the children, whilst also avoiding any arguments over who sees who when.
If not, can you come to an alternative arrangement that is fair to both parties?
If you don’t think it’s possible for you to spend Christmas day with your child’s other parent without there being tension, then it’s best to avoid that situation and consider other options. It can be difficult and potentially upsetting to consider a situation where you have to compromise on your time with your children at Christmas. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the children’s other parent, and indeed their family, have the right to spend time with the children too.
As such, you will have to practically consider a split of time over the Christmas period that works for you both. For example, do you live near to one another and therefore it would be easy for you to split your Christmas day without taking up a lot of time travelling? Does one parent get Christmas morning one year, and the other parent gets Christmas morning the next?
Or, do you live further apart and have to consider an arrangement whereby the children are dropped off with a different parent further in advance, perhaps on Christmas Eve each year, to spend the whole of Christmas day with them?
A number of options may be considered before a final arrangement that suits everyone can be agreed on. However, it’s important to stay open-minded and try to be appreciative of everyone’s thoughts and feelings when trying to come to an agreement.
Do the children have any opinion on how their Christmas time will be shared between both parents?
It is also worthwhile asking the children for their opinion on how they want to spend Christmas. Ultimately, all decisions must be made with the children’s best interests in mind, so it is important to ensure that they are comfortable with the proposals being suggested on their behalf. You may find that the children are able to give you some ideas that you and their other parent hadn’t even thought of yet!
However, you must make sure that in consulting the children, you aren’t putting them in a position of feeling like they have to choose between you and their other parent. Separation is a very difficult time for children, and so it is important to ensure they aren’t made to feel guilty or put under any unnecessary pressure when giving their opinion.
Try to encourage an open and honest conversation where the children feel comfortable to give you their honest thoughts. If you don’t feel like you can have a balanced and fair conversation with the children about Christmas contact, then consider whether someone else close to you (perhaps your own parent, sibling, or close friend) may be able to speak impartially to the children so that they aren’t negatively impacted.
Can you both agree to create a plan for Christmases going forward to avoid future disputes?
If you manage to reach a place where you and the children’s other parent are able to agree on this Christmas, why not consider if you can use this momentum to create a plan going forward? Having a plan in place in advance that everyone is comfortable with will help to take the stress out of future Christmases, and hopefully avoid any backtracking or disputes closer to the big day.
Remember, Christmas isn’t just one day!
Although it can be difficult to imagine a situation where you don’t have your kids with you on Christmas day, try to remember that December 25th isn’t the only day that you can have festive fun with your children. If you are in a situation where you can’t see the children on ‘official’ Christmas day, you can still recreate all the hallmarks of the big day in your own time. You might even want to tell the children about your special agreement with Santa, who actually comes to your house on the 26th, not the 25th!
However you choose to spend the Christmas period as a separated couple, it goes a long way to try and be aware of both the children’s feelings and the other parent’s feelings, as well as your own. Christmas can be a tough time for all involved when a separation is ongoing, but working together and compromising where appropriate can help to ensure that everyone gets to create positive memories and experience the magic of a happy family Christmas, year after year.
For sympathetic legal advice on child contact issues, contact our Family department who can advise you on the next best steps for you and your family.
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