Separated parents – how to decide where your children should spend Christmas

13 Aug 2019 | Lisa Pepper

The Christmas period can be a hectic and stressful time for all parents, but for separated parents, it can be the source of a greater worry. The festive period is supposed to be a joyous time associated with the family unit, but when that unit has separated and one household becomes two, children can feel that rupture the most. Both parents will understandably want to spend Christmas Day and the festive period with the children and deciding how to manage this situation is not always easy.

Our family law team have put together a guide for parents on how they can handle Christmas arrangements with their children

The Child Arrangement Order

As of 2014 the law has moved from possessive terminology such as access, custody, contact and residence to describe the role of the parents in caring for and seeing their children following a separation, towards terms which emphasise co-parenting. Child Arrangements Orders, as they are now known, specify with whom a child lives and with whom they spend time and aim to make it clear that the children ‘live with’ both parents. This approach has become increasingly common and attractive to both parents and the Court alike.

Christmas time arrangements

At Christmas time, where the children will be spending the big day itself, is often the main area of contention between parents. The Courts view, as it is in all children cases, whatever the time of year, is that decisions should be made based on what is in the best interests of the child. This is a wide concept but the Court will conduct an exercise that is completely child- focused working through a specific checklist of considerations, before coming to a final decision. In most cases, unless it can be shown to the contrary, it is in a child’s best interest to see and spend time with both parents and this will be especially important over Christmas, which is traditionally a time for family.

A Court would therefore expect to see a child spending some time with each parent over the festive period with yearly alternating or a division of the day itself common place, to ensure that the child is getting the most of seeing both families over the holiday period.

Four practical tips for arranging Christmas contact.

Many parents decide to do a ‘second Christmas’ either before or after the day itself when the child is spending Christmas day with the other parent. This means both parents get to spend ‘the day’ with the child and the child is likely to react positively to the Christmas experience despite no longer sharing it with both parents.

As any Christmas host will tell you, forward planning is the best way to make sure that the day runs smoothly and without   a hitch. This is also true when planning the arrangements for where the children will spend Christmas day and with whom. Christmas should be discussed by the parents as far as possible in advance and any last minute changes or disruptions should be avoided. This increases the likelihood of Christmas running smoothly for everyone, for the children to get used to the plans for Christmas and to avoid any last minute court applications becoming necessary.

Children can often feel as if they are missing out on the Christmas period when they move between separated parents. Therefore, embracing your child’s experience of a Christmas with the other family will make your child’s transition easier. Far too often Christmas, the presents, the food and the experience can become a competition between separated parents and the consequence is that children get caught in the middle resulting in one parent being alienated. Embrace the second Christmas and encourage your child to do the same so that the holidays are something to look forward to rather than resent.

Finally, be prepared to compromise. It is usually beneficial for a child to spend time with both parents and if they are willing and able to work together, then Christmas can remain an enjoyable time. Cooperation is especially important for separated parents over Christmas but equally throughout the year.

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