For separated or divorced families, Christmas time is often an emotionally charged time of year, fraught with practical challenges as parents try to agree contact time and arrangements for Christmas events. Here are some tips on how best to prepare for the issues which may arise at Christmas:-
1. Christmas Day - In an ideal world, geography permitting, your children would spend time with both parents on Christmas day. If this isn’t practical, one solution is to alternate Christmas day year by year, or to treat Christmas eve or boxing day as a second Christmas day with the other parent. Fairness is the key, but think about the reality for everyone – where will your children be happiest and what is easiest for them, particularly if it is the first time the family has been separated for Christmas? Where possible, prevent any difficult Christmas planning discussions from taking place in front of the children.
2. Gifts – Try to discuss with the other parent what you are each going to buy for the children; there is nothing worse than getting them the same thing or that feeling of “one-upmanship”. If your relationship with the other parent is reasonable, one option would be to give joint presents to your children to avoid competition. To cut through any animosity, some parents organise presents for your children to give to the other parent.
3. Plan ahead – No-one wants to be exchanging solicitors letters the week before Christmas. Make plans well in advance and consider the practicalities. Propose and hopefully agree a schedule of dates, handover times and places well in advance. Both parents should accept that there needs to be a degree of flexibility, but within a framework so that the children know what they are doing and when. Think about what the children want and what is going to be least disruptive for them. Logistics and the practical steps for the handover of the child from one parent to another can sometimes be a struggle. How long is it going to take to get from A to B ? How much is it going to cost and who is going to pay, if trains or planes are required? If both parents want to take the child to an event taking place on the same day, talk about it well in advance to work out if they can both be accommodated. Does your partner have last minute tickets to the Christmas panto, but you have organised to visit Grandma? Try to think about things objectively and in the best interests of the child. Remember that you will both need to agree in advance if the child has to miss any school time or taken out of the country.
4. Nativity play - Will both sets of grandparents want to see their only grandchild dressed up in the school nativity play? If you are the parent who has day to day contact with the school, keep the other parent informed about important dates and school events.
5. Inform and be informed - Do you know the detail of flights, timings and other transport arranged if the children are going skiing or visiting relatives over the Christmas period? Get as much information as possible about the travel plans with the other parent; both parents’ consent will be needed if the children are leaving the country. Give as much information & and detail to the other parent about your own holiday plans. There has to be a bit of give and take. If there is a concern that a child will not be returned following a period of contact abroad, speak to a lawyer and ensure safeguards are in place such as a written assurance they child will be returned on a certain date, and details of the return flight.
6. Telephone - Parents can often disagree about when and how telephone contact should take place over the Christmas period. It may be difficult to fit this into a busy Christmas schedule, with so much to do, so try to agree in advance whether your child will telephone the other parent every day and the best time for it. Can you use Facetime or Skype so that the children see the other parent on Christmas day?
7. Have fun – Changes to the Christmas routine following a separation can be difficult for children, so make the most of your time with the children, have fun and create happy new memories and traditions for future Christmases to come.