The countdown to Christmas has begun and whilst you may be starting your Christmas shopping and making plans with family and friends, if you are involved in a separation or divorce, now is the time to sort out the arrangements for your children and to agree who they will spend time with over the festive period. To help families resolve their Christmas child arrangements, the TSP Family & Divorce team have put together the following top tips:
- It’s never too early to start planning – With lots of activities and festivities for all to enjoy, such as school nativity productions, parties and gatherings, Christmas can be an extremely busy time of year for families. Separated families should try to organise their Christmas arrangements as early as possible, allowing plenty of time to agree matters. Try not to leave it to the last minute otherwise there is a real risk you may find it too difficult or indeed too late to resolve matters. If there is a clash of events then you will need sufficient time to consider a solution. Ideally, you should try to agree the Christmas arrangements by the end of November, but if that is not possible, then there are lots of other ways you can try to resolve matters amicably.
- Communication is key – it is not uncommon for separated or divorced parents to find it difficult to communicate with one another. Christmas can be an emotional time which, in turn, can make communication all the more challenging, especially if this is the first year as a separated family. Choose what works best for you and your family, whether that is face-to-face discussions, telephone, text message or email. Try to remember that you will always be the child’s parents and concentrate on the long term rather than only the Christmas period. Try to discuss the arrangements honestly and openly, taking into account any special activities or events the other parent wishes to enjoy with the children, which may include spending time with extended family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for example. Be prepared to compromise and not be too demanding otherwise there is a real chance communication will break down making it even more difficult to organise the arrangements amicably. Remember you may need to be flexible and be sure to keep the other parent informed of any unexpected change of plans or special arrangements.
- Listen to the views of your children in light of their age and understanding – for many children this may be the first year in which their parents are separated at Christmas. It may be a very difficult time and parents should agree how to explain the situation to them. Children should be given an opportunity to tell you how they feel and you should try to reassure them. Whilst it is unfair to ask children to decide where they would like to spend their Christmas holidays as it places them in a difficult position and may cause them unnecessary upset (especially if they are young), their wishes and feelings should be heard. For younger children, this should not necessarily dictate the outcome. However, the wishes of teenagers and older children should be taken into even if this is disappointing for one or either of the parents.
- Keep to organised handover arrangements – ensure you keep a record of the dates, times, location, collection and pick up arrangements and, most importantly, keep to them. Consider using a shared or online calendar for all the family to access so that everyone can plan when and where they need to be. This will avoid any last minute disagreement or misunderstanding. Agree in advance who will be responsible for drop-off and collection, or whether it will be alternated.
- Consider alternating Christmas arrangements – the first Christmas after separation is often the hardest as both parents will most likely want to see their children on Christmas Day, so try to approach the arrangements fairly. First and foremost, think about what will be in the best interests of the children. Consider whether to alternate Christmas Day and Boxing Day year on year. Other options could include sharing Christmas Day (can work if both parents live fairly close to one another so that the children spend the morning with one parent and the afternoon with the other) or breaking the Christmas period into blocks of days (i.e. Christmas Eve and Boxing Day with one parent, and Christmas Day and other days with the other parent, alternating year on year). On the other hand, you may decide that it would be best for the children to spend time with one parent over Christmas and with the other parent over New Year, alternating year on year. Alternatively, you may decide to spend time together on Christmas Day so that you all open presents in the morning and perhaps even have Christmas dinner together. Think about what is best for your children and what is the least stressful arrangement for all concerned so that Christmas can be enjoyed.
- Think about grandparents and other family members – often when families separate it can be difficult for children to maintain the close relationship they may have previously enjoyed with grandparents and extended family members over the festive period. Consider ways of enabling the children to spend time with their other relatives over Christmas.
- Avoid entering into a Christmas gift competition – if possible, try to discuss what presents you will each buy the children at Christmas so as to avoid duplication and the temptation to ‘out-do’ the other parent with the showering of gifts. Consider whether it is possible to buy a joint gift, particularly if both parents are going to be there when presents are unwrapped.
- Travelling abroad at Christmas – for some families there is an international element of Christmas which may also have to be taken into account. If one parent is travelling abroad with the children at Christmas then you must ensure that the flight, travel, dates, location and communication details are all agreed well in advance and recorded by both parents. Remember the consent of both parents will be required before you travel abroad with the children. Think about telephone, Skype or FaceTime contact on Christmas Day and agree how to deal with the handover and return of passports.
- Keep it out of court – the festive period can be a very stressful time for many families. If you cannot agree the arrangements for the children then take advice from a specialist family lawyer or consider enlisting a mediator or collaborative lawyer to help resolve the arrangements amicably rather than applying to the family court where the proceedings can be very stressful and costly. Court proceedings should be considered as an option of last resort as they are likely to result in an already stressful period only becoming even more stressful.
Above all, try to put the children first and remember that Christmas should be about everyone having fun and enjoying themselves. This may mean trying to put aside your emotions for the festive period and compromising on the arrangements for the sake of the children so that they can enjoy all that Christmas time has to offer.
The TSP Family & Divorce Team advise clients on all aspects of private Family Law and are able to offer a free initial chat for anyone dealing with the issues outlined in this article or separation generally. The solicitors in the team are all members of Resolution and are committed to resolving matters constructively and sensibly. To find out more about how we can help, please contact the Family & Divorce Team on 01206 574431 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.