As Autumn appears and thoughts turn to Christmas, separated parents may find themselves trying to navigate arrangements for their children over the festive period. Factoring in time with the wider families, and prioritising the children spending quality time with both parents during such a busy time, can be a challenging balancing act.
Starting to plan early
Making plans for the Christmas period early is essential. Leaving plans to the last minute often adds additional stress, difficulty in managing expectations, and time pressure which can lead to heightened emotions for separated parents. If you can, have a discussion as soon as possible about the arrangements or set out proposals in writing as to how to split the holidays in a way that is fair and suits the family. Factoring in travel and distance between family visits, the dates for the school holidays, as well as allowing the children to spend quality time over Christmas and New Year with both parents is a useful starting point.
Where should separated parents start?
There is no right or wrong in terms of the time spent with each parent. Some families choose to have two separate Christmas Day’s so that the children get the magic of Christmas Day with both parents. This works particularly well if parents or wider family do not live near to each other. When parents live just around the corner from one another, many parents arrange for the children to spend the morning with one parent and the afternoon with the other, with Christmas Eve and Boxing Day being spent with one parent. It is about what works for the parents and the children, making the most of the time together, and arrangements that would work for some will not always work for others. Limiting long periods of travel on consecutive days is often favoured and so working out the likely journeys in advance can really help set out a clear structure for the arrangements.
It is important that children get time with both parents during the festive period, and if one parent wants to take the children abroad for example, they must seek consent of the other to take the child abroad before doing do.
Aside from deciding where the children spend their time, it is also helpful to consider the build up to Christmas. Do the children make a Christmas wish list for Father Christmas? If so, could both parents be involved in this and agree what they want to buy the children as their main gift, to avoid unnecessary surprises or trying to outdo one another.
If one parent is going to be away from the children on Christmas Day, could they video call at an agreed time, maybe during or after the children have opened their presents so they can feel involved in their day. It can be very hard and upsetting for parents when they do not see their children on Christmas Day and so small gestures such as arranging a call can go a long way.
Parents can also notify the children’s school that they have separated to ensure separate communications are sent to both parents, so they can be invited to things like the children’s nativity play or assembly if communications between them are difficult.
Looking to next year
Once a plan has been agreed or whilst considering one, is it worth considering whether this could be replicated year on year. Perhaps time over Christmas and New Year could be alternated so that parents and their wider families get to enjoy time with the children on key special days. After Christmas, a discussion could take place to cover what did or did not work well so that the arrangements can be tweaked for the following year.
The Christmas holidays also provide a useful time for reflection on the year the children have had. For example, if the children need any support for the next year at school, or changes need to be made to their routine, it provides parents with an opportunity to work together and seek out any appropriate resources or support.
Help is on hand
If an agreement cannot be reached, help is available. A mediation session could be arranged to discuss and agree plans or help from a solicitor can also be sought. Court applications can be made as a last resort option, for example to determine if the children can go away for Christmas with one parent to visit extended family when this cannot be agreed between the parents. Reaching out for help in plenty of time will be crucial to making sure a resolution can be reached before the holidays start.