After the past two years, time with loved ones has never felt so important, but for separated parents Christmas can be a time of stress and worry as plans need to be agreed about where and how children will spend the festive season. So how do you avoid any festive unhappiness and agree on arrangements for children during Christmas?
Whilst the Government has said that further lockdowns are unlikely, it has reiterated that restrictions should not prevent children from being able to move between separated parents, if they are not self-isolating. CAFCASS (the government body that advises the Court on children disputes) has also highlighted the importance of children maintaining their normal routine as much as possible.
Every year as we approach Christmas, we see a flurry of clients contacting us for help resolving their parenting disputes.
Family courts make it clear that parties should only be bringing disputes over child arrangements to court where totally necessary.
What are my rights for seeing my children over Christmas?
It is widely recognised that it is in the best interests of a child to see both parents and indeed it is the child’s right to stay in contact with both parents.
It is therefore important to remember that unless there are issues of domestic violence and/or abuse, neither parent can prevent the other from seeing the children.
For these reasons that it is strongly advisable to agree upon arrangements to ensure time is spent with both parents during what is a particularly magical time of year for all children.
1. Be organised
If you do not have agreed plans in place, don’t delay! Start a conversation with your ex-partner and agree on arrangements that work best and happily for you and your children.
2. Be flexible and willing to compromise
Separated parents tend to agree that Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are the ‘main days’ and are dealt with separately to the rest of the Christmas holiday period.
Suggested arrangements can include but are not limited to:
- Christmas Eve at one home until lunch on Christmas Day.
- Children spend the entire Christmas period with one parent and alternate the following year.
- Share Christmas Day with a handover after lunch or teatime if you live near to one another.
- Share the holidays so one parent has one week with Christmas and the other has New Year to alternate each year.
The final Christmas plan that is agreed will be different for everyone, based on what works best for your family and manageable for both parents. It will also often depend on the age of the children, location proximity and how amicable your relationship with your ex-partner is.
3. Include the children but don’t make them choose.
Depending on the age of the children, include them in the discussions as older children often need to feel they are being heard. Make it positive for the children; two Christmas lunches, maybe two lots of presents, more Christmas treats to share, extra crackers to pull and double the fun.
Once the final Christmas plan is agreed, share it with the children. It will help them feel happy and more secure knowing where they will be throughout the Christmas period.
4. Be fair and considerate to the other parent
If this is your first year as a separated parent, it may still feel very raw and upsetting. Many parents will be dreading not spending Christmas entirely with their children.
Ask yourself if you would be happy with the proposed plan the following year? If the answer is no, then maybe the plan should be reconsidered.
5. Put the plan in writing
When you reach an agreement, it is a good idea to put it in writing/email and send it to the other parent. If there are any subsequent issues, these can be resolved in good time before Christmas. This should also help to avoid any misunderstandings during the festive season.
6. Stick with the plan wherever possible
A pandemic Christmas requires some flexibility, but where possible, it is important that you both stick to the agreed plan.
Be prepared to be flexible with arrangements for the children and willing to adapt your plans if new government rules or restrictions come in force.
Last-minute changes to the plan often cause feelings of disruption, anxiety and uncertainty for children. Whilst flexibility is an important component of positive child arrangements, it is essential to provide stability wherever possible.
Existing Child Arrangements Orders
If you already have a Child Arrangements Order in place setting out the arrangements for your children, including Christmas, save for changes as noted above, this will remain in place.
If you have a Child Arrangements Order that does not specify arrangements for Christmas, and you cannot agree, Sinclair Law can assist with an application to vary the Child Arrangements Order so Christmas arrangements are defined and set out in an Order for the future.
Contact us for advice
If you would like any advice on child arrangements during Christmas, or any other family law issues, please contact us for a free 30-minute case review.