Christmas Arrangments for Separated Parents – How to navigate co-parenting over Christmas!
As the holiday season approaches, the air becomes filled with excitement and anticipation, particularly for children who eagerly await the magic of Christmas. However, for separated parents, navigating this time of year can be challenging and emotionally charged.
Many families are able to put aside their differences at this time and work together to make sure that the children can enjoy the festive season with both parents. With so much else going on in the world at the moment, there are enough outside stresses. So if you are able to agree between you it will make lives a lot easier.
At Mediate UK, we know how difficult it is to work with someone who may have a distinct dislike for, or someone who shows a distinct animosity towards you. But if ever there was a time of year, when you need to polish your halo, focus on the needs of the children and put aside your own feelings, then Christmas is surely it?
Family law is focused purely on the needs of a child – and not those of the parent. It states that a Childs’ needs are best served by having a good and loving relationship with both their parents – and wider family where relevant. In family law, neither parent has a right to see their child at Christmas, or has priority to see the child. Instead, the law says that a child has a right to see both parents if they wish to.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some common issues that can arise.
COMMON ISSUES THAT ARISE OVER CHRISTMAS
Each family and situation is different, but some of the common issues we mediate on and families struggle with are:
- The arrangements for Christmas Eve / Christmas Day / Boxing Day / New Year
- What gifts to get
- Arrangements to see wider family and grandparents
- Changeovers and timings
- Trips away and holidays abroad
- Children seeing new partners over this time
WHAT IS THE SIMPLEST WAY TO TACKLE THIS?
Unless you are spending Christmas together, your children cannot spend time with both of you. There will need to a level of compromise. Therefore, open up communication with the other party from a position of conciliation and cooperation – it will make discussions much easier for you both. Remember, you cannot control how the other party acts, but you can control your own actions and emotions.
Try to communicate in person if possible, or on a video call or phone if not. Remember text messages and emails are not the best way to communicate as it is impossible to read tone.
WHAT OPTIONS DO WE HAVE?
Let’s take a closer look at some examples of Christmas Arrangements for separated parents. These examples do not constitute legal advice and may not work for your specific situation, but we include them here as they may help your discussions:
Option One – Split the three ‘Christmas Days’ in half.
The children spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with one parent, and then change over at midday. The children then spend the rest of Christmas day and Boxing Day with the other parent.
You can then agree to alternate this each year.
Option Two – One week each
As most school holidays are two weeks long over this period, some parents agree the children will spend the first week with one parent and the second week with the other. This will usually mean the children spend Christmas with one of the parents and New Year with the other.
Again, you can alternate this arrangement each year
Option Three – Two Christmases
A less popular option is to hold two Christmas days. This is where a nominated day, before or after Christmas Day, is used by one of the parents to have their own Christmas celebration. This could be held on Boxing Day, or any other day around the festive period.
Again, you can agree to alternate years if you choose this option.
WHAT IF WE LIVE FAR APART?
If you live far apart, it may be less disruptive to arrange alternate years (see option 2 or 3 above) – as not many families or children want to spend their Christmas Day traveling.
WHAT IF WE CAN NOT AGREE?
The considerations of the children should be taken into account. Don’t ask them to make a choice themselves – that is putting too much pressure on them as a child – but you can ask their views. These are their arrangements after all.
If you are still struggling to agree arrangements, then you can try family mediation instead. This will involve a process of an individual MIAM, followed by a joint mediation appointment. You will not usually need too many joint mediation sessions, to finalise an agreement, as you are only discussing the one issue.
The government is currently running a voucher scheme to help towards the cost of your joint mediation sessions, up to £500.
As a last resort, you could apply to court for a specific issues order to cover the Christmas arrangements. The court will want you to have at least considered family mediation by way of a MIAM first. Another factor to consider is the backlog at court and unless an exception and urgent matter, relating to a child at significant risk of harm, you will not usually get a court date for six months.
SHOULD SEPARATED PARENTS SPEND CHRISTMAS TOGETHER?
This is often considered by parents, especially when the separation is new. Each situation is different and there are families who find they can holiday together and spend time together on special days. Some families even continue this when new partners are involved.
However, for the majority of families you need to consider carefully if this will:
- Confuse the children and give them false hope that you may be getting back together
- Provide an atmosphere that is not good for the children
- Make sure if this a decision you are making for the children and not for yourselves
WHAT ABOUT THE WIDER FAMILY?
Pressure from other family members to see the children can add an extra level of stress to the whole situation. If you agree that the children will see their parents on separate days, is it also fair on the children to take them to see both sets of grandparents or other family members on separate days too? It may be, and maybe something that the children want to do. But trying to please everyone at Christmas will lead to more stress, just at a time when you wish to be relaxing and enjoying the moment.
Try to combine the time you have agreed to spend with the children, with the time your wider family visit. If that is not possible, consider if you can also alternate the years, with seeing one set of wider family one year and the other, the next.
Your wider family may be disappointed, but is it worth putting yourself, your children and them through all that additional stress, time and angst?
WHAT ABOUT NEW PARTNERS?
Some people will not agree to the children spending time at Christmas with their ex, if a new partner is going to be there. It is quite understandable that this can evoke strong emotions. Each case is different, especially if this is a new partner, whom the children have not met before.
Family law would say the needs of the children to see both their parents is more important than the negative emotions that you may be feeling about the children spending time at Christmas with a new partner. Either way, you should work together to introduce any new partner to the children and consider carefully whether Christmas time is the right time for a new introduction – which should ideally be made before you spend Christmas together.
KEEP A UNITED FRONT
Once you have agreed the arrangements, be positive about the agreement and keep a united front. Christmas is an important time in a child’s life and your decisions will impact their wellbeing and happiness. You may start traditions that will continue for many years and give them memories to look back on with fondness and gratitude.
It can be an emotive time for any parent, especially when you are separated. But done well, it can be an amazing and positive time for the children.
TOP TIPS FOR A HAPPY FESTIVE SEASON
1. Embrace Open Communication
While it may not always be easy, maintaining open and honest communication with your co-parent is essential during the holiday season. Keeping children informed about the arrangements can also alleviate any anxiety they may have and allow them to enjoy the festivities without worry.
2. Prioritize the Children’s Best Interests
As parents, your children’s well-being should take precedence over any personal disagreements or animosity. Consider their needs when making plans, keeping in mind their routines, preferences, and desires. Focus on creating a sense of stability and consistency for them, even if it means compromising on certain aspects.
3. Plan in Advance
To prevent last-minute stress and confusion, discuss plans well in advance, ensuring both parents are on the same page. This will help avoid conflicts and disappointments later on . Be flexible and accommodating, allowing room for unexpected changes while maintaining the children’s emotional stability.
In addition to the usual family drama that come with the festive season, Christmas is a period when emotions intensify, and alcohol consumption often exceeds the norm. Nevertheless, it remains a longstanding tradition centered around families and children.
Many thousands of families successfully establish arrangements that prioritize the well-being of their children during this time. And if you can do that, even if you find you are compromising with someone you dislike, or putting the children’s needs above your own feelings, console yourself, you are doing the right thing – giving up your own personal feelings to help your children. And that surely, is what makes Christmas such a magical time.