'Twas the month before Christmas

17 November 2020

As the weather gets colder and the summer seems to be a distant memory, discussions are beginning to turn to Christmas arrangements. If your family is anything like mine, it seems inevitable that you will accidentally offend someone because they don’t believe that you are spending enough time with them and these discussions can be even more stressful when parents have separated.

This is particularly true if it is the first Christmas after separation and you’re still just working out the general arrangements.  Add in the additional stress and confusion that the current pandemic brings and it’s enough to turn anyone into a Christmas scrooge.  

The following are top tips to keep in mind when you are trying to work out your children’s arrangements in order to ensure the festive period runs as smoothly as possible:

Do what works for your family

There is no  set arrangement that works well for every family. Some families like to share Christmas Day itself with one parent spending time with the children in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Others prefer to alternate Christmases so that the children spend the full day (or even from Christmas eve through to Boxing Day) in one place. The latter is often the preference of judges who are asked to decide Christmas arrangements where parents have been unable to do so as it means that the children can relax, spending time with one side of their family and enjoying another period with the other side of their family, either before or after. This is even more important where extended families live far apart and time will need to be spent travelling. There are however no rules and you should make sure that whatever plans are made suit your family.

Focus on the Children

Try to ensure that the children’s wishes and feelings are taken in to account in any plans that you make. Older children in particular will have a view on what they want to do over the Christmas holidays and whilst it is sometimes just not possible for the arrangements to reflect exactly  what they want, it is important to listen to their views. It may be that you have split Christmas Day down the middle every year whilst your children have been growing up but now that they are older, their preference is to stay with one parent on Christmas Day and see the other parent on Boxing Day for example.  Working together to try to reach a resolution and prioritising the children’s wishes and needs is likely to be key in helping the festive period run smoothly.

Plan ahead

The run up to the Christmas period with all the planning and preparations needed can often be stressful, so the earlier you can begin to discuss and agree your plans with your former partner, the better. It is harder this year as Christmas arrangements are difficult for everyone to make in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic but generally, you should aim to raise Christmas contact by the start of November where possible so that you have time to iron out any kinks or disagreements. As soon as the arrangements are agreed let your children know what the plan is. Whilst they may not have mentioned it, they will definitely be thinking about it, especially if this is the first year that they have moved between their parents for Christmas. 

Don't forget extended family

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all play an important part in the festivities and children should be able to spend time with their extended family over the Christmas period. However, it is also important to remember that it is never going to be possible for children to spend time with every member of their family on Christmas Day itself. Try to ensure that enough time is built into their schedule in which they have the opportunity to spend good quality time with their extended family on both sides over the Christmas period.

Explore alternative forms of dispute resolution if you reach a sticking point

It is always better to try to reach agreement on Christmas arrangements rather than make an application to court and ask a judge to decide, as this often means that neither parent walks away with the arrangements they wanted. In reality, given the current pandemic and the strain that this has put on all areas of life including the court system, it will be very difficult to make an application and obtain a hearing to deal solely with Christmas arrangements in time. I would therefore suggest investigating mediation or even arbitration to deal with this if you really can’t reach agreement. A mediator will be able to assist you in communicating with your former partner about both of your views in order to try to reach a resolution. This process has the benefit of reducing conflict which is important for the on-going co-parenting relationship. 

If you decide to engage in arbitration then the arbitrator will act as a judge, hear both parties’ views and make a binding decision in respect of this discrete issue. Whilst mediation and arbitration are paid for services, they are generally much quicker and less confrontational than entering into the court system, although both parties have to be on board in order for them to work. 

The main thing for everyone to try to remember is that Christmas is an exciting time for children and in order to truly relax and enjoy the festivities, they will want to know that the adults in their lives are happy. Even if the arrangements are not quite what you had in mind initially, try not to allow the children to see any disappointment and focus on celebrating with them during the time that you are together.  

About the author

Sarah Dodds is an Associate in Kingsley Napley’s family and divorce team, where she specialises in complex divorce and financial work as well as private children cases.

Her practice includes all aspects of private family work and the majority of her clients have international connections. Sarah specialises in divorce and matrimonial finance disputes, including in particular those which contain complex pension issues. She also regularly deals with high conflict cases relating to children’s arrangements and financial provision for children, including international and domestic relocations and child abduction. 


Further information

If you have any questions about the issues covered in this blog, please contact a member of our team of family and divorce lawyers or click here to get started online and find out where you stand.



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