Christmas is traditionally a time for families to come together and celebrate – but it can be heartbreaking for separated parents and their children.
Contact arrangements during the festive season can be the cause of a lot of conflict in separated families. Even when there has been a previous court order, often that order will not address what is to happen over Christmas and New Year.
One of the most frequently asked questions we deal with at Nelsons is whether children should spend one week with their mum and the other with their dad, or if arrangements should be made day to day.
There is sadly no magic formula – all days over the holiday period can have their own significance which could be hard for any parent to miss out on. To resolve these matters, every family will have its own individual needs to address and there are a number of things you can do to make this easier.
Communicate Without Emotive Language
Many separated parents find it difficult or uncomfortable to discuss arrangements for their children, especially at Christmas, which is undoubtedly a busy and stressful period.
Try and focus on the issue at hand – communicate via e-mail if face-to-face conversation is difficult. This will give you the opportunity to remove any emotive language and focus on the issues that need to be resolved.
Plan Well Beforehand
There is often a lot to fit in over the Christmas period; from visits from distant relatives to parties and family events, it is always going to be difficult to keep everyone happy.
It is vital to plan for the events and days that are most important and try to understand that the other parent is likely to have plans involving the children too.
Focus On The Future
If you are newly separated, it may be a daunting thought not waking up with your children on Christmas Day. Try not to think about this year but think about the Christmas contact arrangements moving forward.
If your children are young then there are going to be plenty of Christmases for you to enjoy with them. It may be worth considering proposing that the children have the opportunity to wake up with each of their parents on alternating years.
For some, this is the ideal solution but bear in mind there is no hard and fast rule and no general formula to the Christmas conundrum.
Think About The Children
It is important you focus on the impact of any Christmas contact arrangements that are made on your children. This is the approach the court will take and many family lawyers will encourage their client to consider this first and foremost when making arrangements for their children.
If you live close together then it may be practical for the day to be shared so the children have the experience of celebrating with both parents. If you live further away from each other then this approach may not be practical and may cause too much disruption for the children.
Do Not Ask Your Child To Decide
It is not fair to expect the children to be the decision makers by asking who they would prefer to spend their Christmas holidays with. You may think asking them is the fairest way, but it places them under unnecessary pressure and should not be done.
Stick To The Timings Agreed
Time is an important factor during Christmas and can be a catalyst for arguments if not respected. Ensure you turn up on time so the children move from one parent to the other without having to wait around. Try to agree well in advance who should be responsible for drop-off and collection.
Finally, be prepared to compromise. Divorce and separation regularly cause reasonable, sensible people to behave in a way that is out of character. Compromise allows you to both have ownership of the arrangements and is far more likely to be better for your children.
What If You Can’t Agree On Christmas Contact Arrangements?
If parents cannot agree what happens then the first suggestion would be to attempt mediation in the hope that with the assistance of an independent mediator, you can agree.
Should mediation fail there is an option to go to court to make the necessary applications, usually for a child arrangements order to spend time with a child or children or perhaps to vary an existing order.
A good family law solicitor will encourage you to put the needs of the children first and foremost. Unless there are welfare issues, the children should be spending quality time with both of their parents.
To ensure that disappointment is avoided, we encourage that arrangements are provided for as soon as possible. It is not too early to start planning now. If court applications are necessary, court dates and times the judiciary are available becomes fewer closer to the time.
If you need advice on child contact or any other family related matter, please contact Melanie Bridgen in our Derby office, Nadifa Ahmad in our Nottingham office and Natasha Roberts in our Leicester office, and we will be happy to discuss your circumstances in more detail and give you more information about the services that Nelsons family law team can provide.