A guide for separated parents over Christmas

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If you are considering separation or divorce, it can be especially difficult at Christmas time and when there are children involved. We appreciate that this wasn’t how it was supposed to be, but we are here to help guide you through the process. We will explain everything along the way in clear, practical terms to support you when making difficult decisions.

There are many things to consider when separating, such as where you will live, where the children will live and whether you will need to sell the family home or not. In the run up to Christmas it can be especially stressful.

Start by focusing on your children, you should always try to put them first and be open and honest when you are talking to them about the situation. Try to avoid being negative about your ex-partner as this may make your children feel they need to ‘take sides’.

Adopting a policy of ‘if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say it’ can really work, as turning against each other will only make the separation more difficult in the long run.

Of course, emotions will be running high, but if you can be amicable towards each other, even though it may hurt, you will spare your children from a lot of heartache. It is important that the children know that you both still care about them and love them. Reassuring them of this will really help them to process and deal with their own emotions.

We have put together some other tips to help separated parents with arrangements for Christmas:

  • How you communicate with the other parent is important. Try to keep your tone neutral during any discussions you have. Keep the conversation focused on your children.
  • Make it clear that it is important for your children to spend time with you both, but acknowledge that you will both have family commitments and will need to work around these to ensure you are both able to spend as much time as possible with your children.
  • You may wish to consider one parent spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning with the children and the other Christmas Day afternoon and Boxing Day. This can work well for both parents, as it means you both get to spend Christmas Day with your children. You could alternate this arrangement each year.
  • If one parent is unable to see the children on Christmas day, then consider other means of communication, such as a Whatsapp video call or a Teams call. Try to pick a time when the children will not be too distracted and tired, so that the call is enjoyable for both child and parent.
  • Once you have reached an agreement on the arrangements, consider making an electronic diary for you and your children. That way everyone knows how the arrangements will work and the children will know when they will be spending time with their other parent and extended family.
  • Your arrangements are a personal choice based on what works for your family, but you should be prepared to be flexible, as plans may need to change.
  • Seek legal advice early on. Speaking to a member of our family law team about separation, divorce or child arrangements can really help, especially if you are struggling to communicate. Having someone who can offer sensible, practical advice can really make a difference and can take the strain out of making arrangements.

1: Talk

We appreciate that communication between separated parents is not always easy. Use your normal method of communication to start the conversation about how best to share the festive holidays.

Avoid emotive language and explain why you believe your proposals are beneficial for your child e.g. it will provide an opportunity to see extended family or will reduce the amount of time travelling. If necessary, consider asking a mutually trusted member of the family or friend to help and support you during any face-to-face conversations.

You should also consider how you can compromise and/or accommodate the other parent’s proposals e.g. whether the arrangements work on an alternate year basis.

Be mindful that failure to compromise or engagement from either parent may result in a breakdown in communication and the need for legal assistance. More importantly this also creates stress and pressure on your child.

2: Early discussion

Start talking about the holiday arrangements for your child as early as possible. This allows time to resolve any issues and will also provide both you, and more importantly your child, certainty. This then allows you to focus on the fun stuff.

3: Prioritise your children

Think about how your proposals may impact on your children. Christmas is an opportunity to spend time with extended family members, but you will also want to avoid excessive travel and upheaval.

While it is important to listen to your child’s views, they will also need to understand that the arrangements may need to accommodate other factors. Avoid asking your child what they would prefer as this could place them in a difficult position if they feel they are being asked to choose one parent over the other.

4: Record the agreement

It is sensible to record the arrangements and both parents’ agreement in writing, for example by exchanging emails. A written agreement provides parents with the opportunity to review and discuss any remaining issues. Written arrangements can also provide certainty and prevent added stress.

5: Maintain the agreement

Once arrangements have been agreed, stick to them. Ensure you are not late for the handover times and be polite to each other. More importantly do not speak unkindly to or about the other parent in front of the children. Any issues between parents can be communicated separately.

We hope that these tips will help. If you feel that you could benefit from further advice, please click here to contact a member of our knowledgeable and highly experienced Family Law team today to arrange your free initial consultation.

We hope you have a lovely Christmas.

Frances Nash

Senior Associate, Chartered Legal Executive, Family Law

Contact a member of the team  

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